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We have a special treat for you today, as read Alex Gerwitz has some suggestions on how to make the SPHL playoffs even more exciting, while giving added relevance to the regular season. You may remember Alex as the guy who created all the SPHL teams on the NHL video game. Be sure to give him a follow on twitter at @Alex_Gerwitz.
Take it away Alex!
I applaud the SPHL for outside-the-box thinking with the Challenge Round (informally known as “choose-your-opponent”) that was introduced in 2018. However, there’s no guarantee that the intended drama comes to pass. Sooner rather than later we will have a “chalk” year where we are delivered the traditional 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, and 4-5 matchups.
Once that happens, the shine is off the format and fans will be clamoring for another way to spice up the postseason. Add in concerns that have been raised since the format’s inception about finishing #5 becoming virtually no different than #8, and you start to see the cracks in their noble yet flawed creativity. With that in mind, here are a pair of alternative playoff structures I suggest in the SPHL.
#1. Magnify Home Ice Advantage
Under my first concept, we return to the well-worn 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 pairings, but with added emphasis on home ice for the top teams: the #1 and #2 seeds host ALL THREE games of their series, while the middle two series use the standard 1-1-1 or 1-2 split. Once we get to the semi-finals and re-seed 1-4 and 2-3, we again give the highest advancing seed all three games at home, and the other series retains the normal schedule. The finals remain as usual with each team recieving at least one home game.
This should magnify the importance of regular season success, as now the top seed means you sleep in your own bed until the finals. The second spot gaurantees the same but only for the quarter-finals, and 3rd place is assured of a semi-final home game should they advance. On the bottom end of things, 7th and 8th earn you a shot at the title, but no home game: you’ll need to reach 6th for the priviledge.
I should acknowledge that the obvious counter-point to this idea is building availability: as recently as 2017, top-seeded Macon played their entire opening series on the road due to this. The only solution under my format would be to clarify that the best teams recieve the “right” to host all 3 games IF they have the ice.
#2. The Ladder
My second idea borrows from European and Asian sports by rewarding byes and double-byes to the top 4 teams.
We begin with only the 5-8 teams in action, in two single-elimination games hosted by the #5 and #6 clubs. Those winners advance to another set of single-elimination games played at #3 and #4. Finally, the top two seeds enter the picture and host the remaining winners in either a one-off or best-of-3 semi-final. I’d prefer a single game for one reason: three rounds of one-game kockouts leaves us plenty of time for that best-of-5 final SPHL fans crave while still wrapping things up within the league’s preferred three-week window. If the semis become best-of-3, the finals would remain best-of-3 as well.
This format, like my first one, is designed to heavily favor the top teams in the regular season. Each of the top 6 seeds recieves one home game prior to the finals, but where you finished determines where you enter the bracket.
Both of my ideas share the common goal of giving teams a reason to continue to jockey for position long after the field of eight is set: a league where 80% make the postseason needs all the help it can get to keep every team’s campaign interesting until Game 56. And the SPHL has been no stranger to innovative ideas before: what more fitting place to stretch the way we think about playoff formats in hockey?