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The NHL's answer to March Madness?

Mar 10, 2010, 1:18 PM EDT

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Bob McKenzie’s story on this week’s GM meetings really stirred my imagination (and probably did the same for other hockey fans). So, today, I’ll break down some of the more interesting ideas that were discussed. Are they realistic? What would be an even better alternative? Are they just dumb?

Next, let’s take a look at something that would have a more profound effect on “real hockey.” What if the league decided to echo college basketball’s qualifying tournaments by making the 8th-15th ranked teams earn the last playoff spot? Here’s what McKenzie had to say about the idea.

One of the more interesting ideas brought up this week at the general manager’s meetings is the “play in” to the playoffs or the mini-tournament for the final playoff seed involving teams that finish outside of the top seven in each conference. That idea is not going to get a lot of traction despite the fact that it has been talked about before. It’s an entertaining idea, but that is simply not enough to get it pushed through.

It’s certainly a fascinating concept, but the first problem that comes to mind is that it would largely devalue the regular season. Allowing 16 out of 30 teams to make the playoffs already seems to encourage mediocrity, but if a team could coast all year and then got hot for a month they could go from last place to a playoff spot. That just doesn’t sit well with me, Jack.

Another problem comes down to simple scheduling. What will the 1-7 teams do during this mini-tournament? You could run into problems of serious rust, not unlike a college football team that loses its rhythm in the near-month gap between their Conference title games and a bowl game.

Still, it would certainly be exciting to have another meaningful hockey tournament and would also give every single fan base a reason to believe in their team. Perhaps a compromise could make this more realistic … what if the teams ranked 8-11 were allowed to duke it out? Adding a two game cushion to the schedule would give the top teams time to rest without having too long a lay-off.

Either way, this probably won’t ever happen but there’s no doubt that pro hockey’s answer to March Madness would be captivating.

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