24 NHL teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs isn’t fair, but who cares?
There has been a lot written about the NHL’s proposed 24 team format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At first, I’ll admit I didn’t like the 24 team format because it doesn’t cause certainty, but rather, it creates more uncertainties. Also, I didn’t like it because it wasn’t fair.
And you know what? That’s perfectly fine because it perfectly fits the league’s modus operandi. The NHL has never particularly cared too much about having a “fair” postseason. What the NHL cares about is creating a beautiful spectacle of chaos and uncertainty.
The NBA, MLB, and NFL care about fairness, to varying degrees. But what makes the NHL unique is they don’t care one bit about fairness in the postseason.
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If the league cared about fairness, would two of the three best teams in the Eastern Conference have had to face each other in the first round back in 2017? Would Lucy (the Boston Bruins) keep pulling the football away from Charlie Brown (the Toronto Maple Leafs) in the first round if the NHL cared about life being fair?
Why else do you think the league doesn’t re-seed teams after each round? Why else does the NHL pretty much force division rivals to square off in the first round and second round? It’s because they want an exciting postseason. And as unfair as the 24 team format is, you can’t deny it will be exciting.
Does the league care if the best team wins? Heck no. And the numbers show that the best team usually doesn’t win. The real reason people love the Stanley Cup Playoffs so much isn’t because the best team wins (thank goodness for that). It’s because, deep down, as human beings, we want to see the unexpected. We, as fans, love not knowing what’s coming next.
You know why the Stanley Cup Playoffs were awesome last year? Because there were so many upsets in the first round. Even as a Washington Capitals fan, I was sort of happy to see the underdog Carolina Hurricanes advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Deep down, everyone outside of Massachusetts was rooting for them. Fans love to see underdogs win. And the 24 team format is going to encourage it.
Last year, did anyone really want the Tampa Bay Lightning to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, outside of Lightning fans? Probably not. All across social media, hockey fans got behind the Blue Jackets as their first round series went on. The unexpected happened – an eighth seed swept one of the best regular season teams of the salary cap era. And fans loved it.
Let’s imagine the postseason as a movie. Would you want to see a movie with no twists or turns? If nothing unexpected happened, you’d probably hate the movie. But what makes great movies great is how they keep us on our toes. What we think will happen usually doesn’t happen in our favorite movies.
If the 24 team format happens, this will be a never before seen postseason. Sure, the 1970s and 1980s had way more than half the teams making the playoffs, but that was before social media. Now we get to experience chaos as it happens. Having a weird postseason where a lot of unexpected stuff happens is a perfect way to end one of the weirdest seasons in NHL history.
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Is the 24 team format unfair? Absolutely. It’s probably even less fair than going with the standard 16 team format and laughing at the teams who finished just outside the top 16 in a shortened season. But again, fairness isn’t the main objective to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chaos is the top priority and as silly as having 24 teams in the postseason might sound, it has the potential to deliver a new kind of chaos. A kind of chaos we’ve never seen before. And I’m all for it.