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Lightning Round: 24 team playoffs a good excuse to make money

And the ethics of hosting sports this summer.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning
Mar 15, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; A general view of Amalie Arena where today’s NHL game between the New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 virus.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest here, the 24-team playoff format isn’t a permanent change to how the NHL is going to be running their postseason. It has never meant to be. So pretending as if this one-off is an affront to the sport and ruins the entire season is lunacy, the season was ruined when a viral pandemic spread across the globe.

The NHL’s regular season was cut short and the league lost out on about a quarter of the revenue they were expecting. That’s the epitome of “shit happens.” Finding ways to create meaningful games that, one, the players will want to participate in (because we all know how much they try at the All-Star Games), and two, give people a reason to watch are the priorities for the league right now. It’s hard to blame them, they need to fill holes in their TV deals and get some money in their pockets to pay everyone (namely the players).

So when the NHLPA comes up with a plan that is essentially the old Conference format but with some extra teams (including big markets like Chicago, New York, and Montreal), I’m all for it. It honestly sounds like a great solution. The teams at the bottom get increased Draft Lottery odds, the teams at the top get the chance to accrue Hockey Related Revenue so the salary cap is healthier in the future, and the teams in the middle can convince their shareholders they made the playoffs. Sounds like a win-win-win.

Looking at the proposed format for this year actually gives me a lot of hope. The 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 Conference format is the most fair and honest playoff format North American sports has ever come up with. Take the Toronto Maple Leafs for an example. They’re in a Division spot and were supposed to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. In fact, at the time of stoppage, they were eighth in the Conference, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were out of the playoffs by points percentage.

The regular season is meant to reward good teams and force teams that struggled to play harder opponents earlier. Sure, the league wanted to increase rivalries, but I feel like it just made people mad and disillusioned with the fairness of the game.

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about as these playoff talks have been going on is the utter lack of progress on testing and safety for players and staff. The United States and Canada are both well below their requirements for testing. How the NHL is going to be able to acquire tests is both a logistical and ethical issue. Where are they getting tests from? Those tests would save lives if they were in hospitals. Is it fair for a non-essential service to acquire a severely limited supply of medical equipment?

I don’t know how society would take it if sports did that. If you were out at work, someone was coughing around you, and you need a test only to find out that a hockey player was taking one a day instead. How would you feel?

Going through this thought experiment has led me to question whether the playoffs are going to happen at all. Whether the NHL is going to get stuck somewhere down the road and aren’t able to ram their way through the mud. I really want sports to return, but I’m also preparing myself to not have it come back. Fall is flu season, that’s when a second wave is going to come. There’s a real chance we don’t get hockey until 2021.

Lightning Round

  • The NHLPA tentatively approved the 24-team playoff format they proposed with a 29-2 vote by their executive board (one player representative per team). Still a long way to go.
  • A very long way to go.
  • An update on one of the summer prospect tournaments that doesn’t seem to be on good legs.
  • The Lightning don’t have anyone on this list, but maybe they can go shopping?