clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

With a 24 team NHL playoff, the rest should play for draft picks

The lottery is fun, but this is better.

2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Last Friday, our own loserpoints went on a little rant about the NHL playoffs. With the idea that this season will be completed by having a 24 team playoff, he thinks that the NHL should make it permanent. I agree with most of his points in this. From a money standpoint, it makes sense too. More teams in the playoffs, more games being played, more games being shown on TV... what does all of that mean? More money. The NHL will never lose sight of the bottom line.

It’s the same reason that we see the Chicago Blackhawks featured 53 times on national TV each season, even when they’re clearly in decline and barely fighting for a playoff spot. It’s why the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are plastered all over Canadian media, while the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators get barely a look... except when Eugene Melnyk says something.

Follow the money.

So while we’re following the money, why not add a separate playoffs for the remaining seven, soon to be eight, teams that would be left out of the playoffs in our new 24 team format. But what would they play for? The top picks in the draft of course. Instead of tanking for that number one overall pick like the Buffalo Sabres did in their attempt to draft Connor McDavid, the bottom teams would still need to be good enough to compete in the loser bracket tournament to get that 1st overall pick. We could call it the McDavid Cup.

The KHL did this for two seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14 before abandoning the idea. The teams that did not qualify for the playoffs took part in a tournament for the Nadezhda Cup. The winner of the tournament also won the rights to the first overall pick in the KHL Junior Draft. This served a few purposes for the KHL. It maintained interest in hockey after the season in cities that the team didn’t qualify for the playoffs. It also allowed players that would be potentially playing for their national team during the World Championships to stay in shape. This is less of an issue for the NHL since the regular season runs far later than it does in the KHL and the World Championships starts within a few weeks of the end of the regular season.

What I propose is that the bottom eight teams (once Seattle joins to make it 32 teams in the NHL) play a three round tournament. The teams would be seeded in reverse standings order with the higher seeded team having home ice advantage. The first round would start after three days for rest and travel after the ending of the regular season. The first two rounds would be three game series with the final round being a five game series.

To further save money for teams, the league, and the broadcasters, the tournament could also be held at one location. A stickler in that plan though is that it’s probably impossible to have a neutral site as a host since every team in the NHL would be involved in some form of playoffs. It’s possible though that the NHL could develop some place to be the annual host, but there are a lot of challenges. An NBA arena would not be practical since they could also be in their playoffs. A college location might work, but you’d also have to look for one that is not in an NHL city, but has NHL caliber rinks, practice facilities, hotels, etc. that could serve as the host.

There are several possible locations that could serve well in this capacity that do not have a major sports team that calls the arena home. Here’s a few options I’ve identified as possibilities, each with their own pros and cons.

  • KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY, 21,000 hockey capacity - The home of the Louisville Cardinals, this might be the best option. At 21,000 capacity, it is the largest arena in the United States for hockey. However, there may not be enough practice space in the area. If the NHL were to commit to the area long term though, building more practice facilities could be a part of that investment.
  • Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO, 17,544 hockey capacity - Kansas City provides a city that is large enough to host eight teams as well as a pretty good hockey capacity. The Sprint Center has also hosted an NHL pre-season game in the past as well as multiple NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments. This to me looks like one of the better options.
  • BOK Center, Tulsa, OK, 17,096 hockey capacity - The only real conflict for this arena is that it is the home of the Tulsa Oilers in the ECHL. If the NHL can work around that potential conflict with the ECHL playoffs, this would be a good option since the arena staff actively deal with hockey and having ice on the floor. Tulsa is a smaller town though and travel into the city as well as hotel options might not be there to satisfy the NHLPA’s requirements.

Besides the money savings of travel, this would also allow the NHL to seed based solely on standings and not worry about long distance travel. For example, you could have a first round where Vancouver and Florida play and Los Angeles and Montreal play and then in the second round Vancouver and Montreal play. That would lead to a lot of miles in a short period of time.

If a neutral site is not possible, then I propose that the first two games of the three game series be played at the higher seed’s arena to reduce travel. Then if a third game is necessary, the team’s would travel to the lower seed’s arena to finish the series. The five game series likewise could go with a 3-2 format to reduce travel as well.

The NHL could also further compact the schedule by putting in some back-to-back games. I think the idea of this should be that by the end of the first round of the real playoffs, the McDavid Cup has been awarded.

Another angle to take on this is to think about the marketing that the NHL could do around the tournament. They can promote the upcoming NHL Entry Draft and feature some of the top prospects. Imagine the finals of the McDavid Cup being played and you get to hear Alexis Lafreniere being interviewed. Or Quinton Byfield. Or Cole Perfetti. It would allow the NHL to get a leg up on promoting some of the top potential young stars that are coming up in the draft. They can also use the TV time to hype up the real playoffs and create more buzz.

Let’s take a look at what the bracket would look like this year in my proposed McDavid Cup tournament. Since we have an uneven number of teams until the NHL reaches 32 teams, which would give us an even eight for the McDavid Cup, we’ll be giving Buffalo a bye during the first round.


  1. Buffalo Sabres
  2. New Jersey Devils
  3. Anaheim Ducks
  4. Los Angeles Kings
  5. San Jose Sharks
  6. Ottawa Senators
  7. Detroit Red Wings

First Round

  • Buffalo - Bye
  • New Jersey - Detroit
  • Anaheim - Ottawa
  • Los Angeles - San Jose

There does end up being quite a bit of travel awkwardness in this bracket if there is no neutral site. Anaheim and Ottawa are a long distance match up. Buffalo would play cross country with the winner of the Los Angeles and San Jose series. If Anaheim beat Ottawa in the first round, they’d then be playing the winner of the New Jersey and Detroit series. There is a potential in this bracket though for Anaheim and Los Angeles to play each other in the last round.

With the NHL broadcasting rights contract being up for negotiation in the near future, this is a perfect opportunity for the NHL to expand their offerings. More games, means more advertising, means more money. The NHL shouldn’t overlook the possibility here to improve their bottom line, improve their marketing, and drive more interest in the NHL Entry Draft which currently pales in comparison to the NFL and NBA drafts in terms of coverage and fan interest.