After watching the LA Kings blaze through their four series with just one road loss, I realized that I may never see such a feat accomplished ever again. I also began questioning how home ice advantage is determined in the NHL playoffs.
The NHL currently uses the very effective 2-2-1-1-1 format for playoff series. This ensures that the higher seed will open and close a series if it is to go the distance. This format is far superior to the 2-3-2 format used by the NBA. I gather that the 2-3-2 format was adopted because of the simpletons in the NBA. Maybe it has to do with travel costs and TV ratings, who knows?
While the business end certainly makes sense, using a 2-3-2 model all but eliminates home court advantage for the higher seed. Building a series format that makes it so difficult to see the final two games at home destroys all competitive advantage built by having the higher seed. Game three of every series is the swing game. Whether the series is 1-1 or 2-0, game three determines quite a bit of momentum to the winner. Even if the upper seed takes the first two games, having three-straight – including that swing game – at another building does a lot to destroy any sort of momentum built in the first two games.
My opinion is probably built more on the eye test and the assumed attitudes and superstitions of athletes. However, this isn’t just a baseless assumption like saying faceoffs don’t matter. I can find no advantage by making a team play three-straight games in a visiting building. That advantage is further decreased when those three games are in a playoff series.
In my opinion, the NHL is wise to stay the course with their series structure. I do fear that the NHL will follow suit in hopes of cutting some travel costs and potentially digging up more TV viewers. However, I think I may have a solution that could keep the NHL’s competitive balance while benefitting from some of what the NBA enjoys with their silly series structure. I’d like to see the NHL adjust to a 2-2-1-2 format in which the upper seed would actually begin the series on the road.
Of course, I wouldn’t expect much more from a league like the NBA. What I fear is the NHL will follow suit in hopes of cutting travel costs or finding more TV viewers. The NHL does have a good thing going. However, I’d like to see them make a slight change. I would be interested to see the NHL flip to a 2-2-1-2 format in which the home team would actually begin each series on the road.
Games one, two and five would be hosted by the lower seed and games three, four, six and seven would be hosted by the higher seed. Now, there is plenty of room for criticism here, but the goal would be to provide more of an advantage later in the series for the higher seed.
The biggest risk is that the lower seed gets a spark from starting at home and the high seed in put in a hole. However, it seems as if the luxury of starting a series at home isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Taking the 2012 playoffs as the only example would be as big of a mistake as the media taking the 2010 playoffs as the only necessary example for bailing on franchise goalies. However, it seems as if the ability to jump on a plane and go play hockey is becoming a little less stressful than sitting at home, with your media and fans waiting for that first game to begin.
There is plenty of room for argument regarding the schedule of the opening four games. You can’t really quantify if there is more or less stress or pressure opening at home or on the road. Some teams will be like the Kings and tear up their road schedule and others will be a dominant force on home ice. If that is the case, those teams would be at a lesser advantage by having to wait for their home games.
The way I see it is that most series end up in a split after two games. If that trend continues, the upper seed will have one win under their belt with four of the final five games in their barn. The philosophy behind the opening games is indeed built on conjecture. However, I feel that the structure of the back end makes sense. First off, the lower seed only plays at home once in the final five games of the series. Second, it provides a similar layout for travel and TV as 2-3-2 without discounting home ice advantage. Lastly, if a series is nearing the distance, the home team has two chances to close out at home, not just one.
This is one of those ideas that would be perfect for the AHL to exercise. Let them feel it out for a postseason or two and see what the results bring.