The 2019 Super Bowl attracted about 98 millions viewers, the lowest amount for some time, but it’s still about 92 million more than game five of the Stanley Cup final between the Capitals and Golden Knights drew in. More people watch the finale of The Voice, than the Stanley Cup finals. The NFL Pro Bowl, an entirely meaningless game, gets better numbers than the game which decides which team will lift Lord Stanley’s cup.
We (probably) all know the excitement of a Super Bowl party, the tension that comes with knowing that you’re about to watch a one-off, make-or-break game that’s going to decide the title (and give us a Maroon 5 concert). The Super Bowl, the World Cup Final, the Olympics, the Champions’ League final, even the Eurovision Song Contest! These are events. The Stanley Cup final isn’t. You can’t plan for it as the final game may fall on one of three dates. The series format isn’t that good either, in a best of seven format, watching one team sweep another just feels clinical. Underdog stories are usually played out over several games, then several series.
All in, the playoffs are too long and aren’t really that special. So what are the alternatives?
The Champions’ League Model (Kind Of)
UEFA’s Champions’ League uses a group stage, followed by a knockout stage. There’s no real reason why the NHL can’t do the same. This will do away with seeding teams, and level the playing field. Each of the eight teams in each conference play each other once, and the top two teams compete for the conference final before the winner goes onto the Stanley Cup Final. In this format, there are no series, just one-off games.
The Single-Elimination Tournament
Probably the most common type of tournament, the single-elimination (or knockout) style is the simplest option of all. The NFL uses it, as does tennis, soccer and a whole load of other sports. Hell, even the North American Debating Championship uses the format. The beauty of this type of competition is that it uses the existing format, albeit with just one game per series!
Of course this will never fly in the North American market, but the Premier League is watched all across the world and the team that lifts the trophy is the one that finishes top of the league. That’s all. Of course there are other soccer tournaments that complement the EPL, but fans are happy with the current set-up.
Realistically the format will never see sweeping changes unless the players and owners really decide something has to change. We bemoan the lack of hockey during the off-season, but then 82 regular season games followed by potentially 28 more is just too many. The current best of seven format denies fans the celebration aspect of the competition. The All Star Game has shown us that the NHL likes a party, by restricting the Stanley Cup final to one game, Uncle Gary has the chance to create a party atmosphere like those seen in other competitions.
Would you like to see a change to the current format? Let us know by voting below:
— The 4th Line Hockey Podcast (@4thLinePodcast) March 9, 2019