Credit goes to the Maple Leafs announcers on TSN for bringing this to my attention tonight, even though it was decided on at the start of the season, but here is a fun idea to mix up the playoffs from the Southern Professional Hockey League:
On Sunday, April 8, the League Office will conduct a Challenge Round Selection event with all eight playoff teams participating.
For the Challenge Round, the top three teams from the regular season will have the opportunity to select their first round opponent from the teams seeded 5-8.
The #1 seed will select their Challenge Round opponent first. The #2 seed will then select their opponent from the remaining three teams, after which the #3 seed will select from the remaining two teams. The #4 seed will play the team that was not selected previously.
After the first round, the format goes back to normal, with the highest-seeded team playing the lowest-seed, etc. But I like this idea! It seems like an awesome way to add some spice to otherwise dull opening-round match-ups.
Personally, I’m a fan of the NHL’s current divisional format in its playoffs, because I’m a sucker for semi-regional rivalries. Hockey also isn’t as popular, so let’s talk about the NBA instead. Tons of people are clamoring to fix the pro basketball postseason. Mostly that’s because the Western Conference is amazing and the Eastern Conference sucks, but also, the better team wins an NBA playoff match-up more often than in any other sport, so it’d be nice if the early 1-8 and 2-7 games felt like more than just half-assed foreplay.
So let’s hurt some feelings on live TV! The day after the regular season ends, put all the coaches together on ESPN (realistically, by video conference) and let them choose their challenger in a way that’s both tense and fun.
To give some examples, the Wizards, Sixers, and Bucks are the current five, six, and seven seeds in the East right now. If you’re Celtics coach Brad Stevens with the second pick, do you want to piss off Giannis by proclaiming his team the weakest of the bunch? Would you want to go up against John Wall right after telling him he’s less of a threat than Joel Embiid? Or, don’t you want to see Steve Kerr tell Gregg Popovich, “We know we can beat you” to his face? And have the Rockets go right after the Clippers after all the drama they shared this year? And if you’re still hung up on the conference quality disparity, we can ditch that and make it even messier. The opportunities for beef and revenge—the NBA’s specialties—are deliciously endless.
It appears that we’ll get a version of this TV spectacle next NBA season, in the low-stakes venue of the newly televised all-star game draft. But if that goes well, we should make it even spicier. Instead of leaving it all up to the win-loss records, reward the best teams by allowing them to decide their own fate.