RALEIGH, N.C. – Why should paying customers and fans of the Carolina Hurricanes be denied an opportunity to cheer on their team in the postseason?
For that matter, why should fans of any team in any market in the National Hockey League be denied that chance?
With ‘March Madness’ afoot, the state of mind that collegiate sports postseason competition elicits, can also be applied in the NHL.
With the league’s top 16 teams qualifying to move on to compete for the coveted Stanley Cup, after enduring a grueling 82-game regular season, only a handful of the remaining 14 really get the opportunity to vie for the top pick in the year’s upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Utilizing a Draft Lottery as an intended equitable process to ensure teams won’t purposely finish in last place for the first pick seems a rather dull alternative.
Why not give fans in all 30 markets some opportunity to experience postseason play?
Sixteen will compete for the Stanley Cup, while the remaining 14 will compete for the selection order of the incoming draft class.
It’s not meant to suggest an ‘everyone gets a medal’ concept, but rather one that will reward the effort of playing the regular season through to the end, and still provide the fans in those markets more hockey to watch.
It would provide additional revenue and income for the league and the players as a result, but more importantly it might alleviate the mentality that exists in 14 markets and their fan bases that their respective teams have packed it in for the season.
Critics would argue that if fans don’t turn out during the regular season to watch a team that doesn’t and won’t qualify to compete for the Stanley Cup, why would they show up to watch a competition that highlights that their team was not good enough to do so?
They love the game and will pay for a well-organized event that has buzz to it, entertainment value, and allows them to cheer their team on because there’s a perceived purpose and prize to play for – even if it’s just pride.
See the Winter Classic or the Stadium Series for examples.
This can be done.
Professional leagues and organizations have conditioned the paying public to value one-time events that impulse them into paying to see a nicely packaged, entertaining, and value-driven event.
If the perceived value is met and exceeded by the experience, it will be a success.
The final 15-20 games of the regular season in markets with teams that will not make the playoffs are actually draining the physical and mental energy of their fans to the point that it does take four-six months to recover from.
Whereas a single-elimination tournament set up with ranking according to order of regular-season finish from 17 through 30, with byes included, would add additional games to the postseason and engage all 30 NHL markets to keep watching deeper into late April and early May.
The current system doesn’t do that.
Yes, true diehards and fans will watch the NHL playoffs from start to finish, but the casual spectator will move on to other things until the following season begins.
Why not keep them engaged to stay a little while longer, see their team play at least one more game, a postseason game at that, while supporting the organization and the league that much longer?
The true reward of it all for the competing teams will be to earn the top draft pick as well as their picking order which may improve.
Added income and other benefits for the league and teams involved as derived from additional marketing and promotional efforts wouldn’t hurt either.
It’s a concept that could revamp, even enhance, what’s become a stale part of the league’s process and calendar for the people who make it all possible – the fans.