NHL Damages Own Playoffs With Awful Qualifying Round

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) /

The NHL will soon regret its qualifying round idea when it looks around and sees no star power in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When it comes to overall interest in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and star power, the NHL just lost millions of viewers as a result of their own idea, the qualifying round.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs set to begin the NHL is about to realize how badly they shot themselves in the foot by creating a 24-team qualifying round for the playoffs. As a result, the league will enter their postseason without the two best hockey players in the world, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, along with its most marketable American phenom, Auston Matthews.

For years Gary Bettman’s dream has been to breakthrough in the US, and somehow close the gap between the NHL and the other three big US leagues, the NBA, MLB, and NFL. How does he intend to do that by selling the gritty, no-name Columbus Blue Jackets, with their biggest personality being their head coach? On what planet does it benefit the league to have John Tortorella in the playoffs over Matthews?

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How can Bettman justify losing McDavid and Crosby to two teams that sold off players at the trade deadline and had almost zero percent chance of making the postseason at the time of the season pause?

Truth is, he can’t justify any of it and he’ll preach fairness throughout the leagu,e which is why the NHL will never reach its full potential within the United States. Bettman has no clue how to sell stars, and more importantly, how to protect stars.

By comparison to the NBA and NFL, the NHL appears to favor mediocrity, dirty, slow, and grinding play over the true talent and skill within the game of hockey. In the playoffs the whistles get swallowed and it becomes almost an “anything goes” contest over the offensive displays you’d see during the regular season.

The most recent example of this is when Columbus would not be penalized against Toronto for elbows, crosschecks, and late hits along the boards. Instead of calling the game by the rules, the Blue Jackets got away with dirty play after dirty play and it cost the league Matthews, along with John Tavares and Mitch Marner.

It also cost the league its biggest Canadian hockey market which will result in millions and millions of less fans tuning in. Toronto has proven they aren’t a hockey town, they are a Maple Leaf town. World Cups and World Juniors have been hosted in Toronto and not been sold out. However, put the Anaheim Ducks in town on a random January Tuesday and tickets could sell for double the price on the secondary ticket markets.

Could you imagine a scenario in the NBA or NFL where they wouldn’t ensure the rules are being called against their stars? A scenario where those leagues would allow illegal fouls to occur and eventually cost them key stars and markets? Imagine LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers losing a series because the Sacramento Kings were allowed to constantly foul LeBron? It just simply wouldn’t happen.

Could you imagine an NFL official not calling a penalty on a defender after a late hit on Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, or Aaron Rodgers? That official would lose his job.

This isn’t about giving special treatment, it’s about calling the rules in the rule book. Star powers are going to take extra abuse compared to your average player, as a result more penalties will be called in their favor. However, the NHL has made a decision only the worst of the worst will be called, which only favors the less talented which results in less fans tuning in.

Nobody wants to see a group of talentless grinders work hard to clog up the neutral zone and make the game unbearable to watch. Congratulations NHL, you’ve created a system that eliminates entertainment, removes star power, rewards cheating by not calling the rules, fails to have any lasting ability since bottom-six grinders are a dime a dozen constantly being replaced, and see the audience completely tune out with options galore at their disposal.

Just like the audience will tune out this year, more so than any other. The NBA is set to begin its postseason roughly a week after the Stanley Cup playoffs begin. The NFL will be back in September, completely vanishing any casual NHL fan interest. The MLB will have more interest than ever in September as its season whines down given the playoff expansion this year. Also, it’s a big if, but if college football returns, a decision remains to be seen, but that could just be another option to draw viewers away from the NHL.

It sure would be nice for the NHL to have some of its biggest stars to counter-program against all those options. The league only has itself to blame. Had it simply decided to only bring in the 16 playoff teams at the time of the pause instead of expanding to 24, or even made only wild card teams qualify and awarded playoff berths for the top-three teams of each division. Then Crosby, McDavid, and Matthews would have all already been a part of the 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Which means the NHL basically created a tournament to eliminate its own biggest stars. Blunders like these are why the league is still decades away from truly breaking through and getting close to the same level of its competition.