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The AHL’s Revised Playoff Format Could Solve NHL’s Regular Season Problem

In their four years of existence, the Golden Knights have taught the fans of Vegas many lessons. The chief among them is just how incredibly difficult it is to be the last team standing at the end of the season. But along those lines, one of the biggest reasons for that is the current format of the playoffs in the NHL.

In four seasons, the Golden Knights have participated in the playoffs every year. They’ve seen two different playoff formats, finished atop the division twice, and have come in second and third the other two years. Each season, the playoffs have proven to be a much different animal than the regular season and as we head into VGK’s 5th season, it’s never been clearer how invaluable the 82-game season is.

The Golden Knights are the third betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup at William Hill, they are the runaway favorites to win the Pacific Division, and they are widely expected to eclipse 90 points with ease. The problem is, the current format of the playoffs doesn’t really reward a team for dominating in the postseason, especially when you play in the worst division.

For winning the Pacific, the Golden Knights’ “reward” would be a first-round date with the 4th place team from the Pacific or, more likely, the 5th place team from the Central. The division winners get four home games while the wild card team gets three. It’s a massive grind just to win one series, let alone four, and the benefits of being the best team over an 82-game season are minimal at best. Simply put, the regular season is majorly undervalued, and this needs to change.

The AHL has rolled out a new format for their playoffs, which could potentially be the first step towards a change in the NHL. The Calder Cup playoffs will now include 23 teams with nine getting first-round byes. In one division, the top two teams in the standings at the end of the year automatically skip the first round and await the winner of a best-of-three series between the teams finishing 3rd to 6th. In another division (the one the Silver Knights play in), only the top team in the division gets a bye while six others must fight for their spot in a best-of-three. And in the last two divisions, the top three get byes while two others play to reach the divisional semis.

Usually, I’m against expanding the postseason as it normally devalues the regular season, but adding byes massively changes the importance of the regular season for the top teams, especially in the Pacific where only the division winner is rewarded.

In all four divisions, there’s a cut line to make the playoffs and there’s another cut line to earn a bye. This creates more competition amongst the top teams in the league, which is excellent for both fans and players. There are pros and cons to each division’s layout in the AHL, each of which we will get to see play out over the course of this season.

Imagine how different this regular season would feel if the Golden Knights had to win the division to earn a bye. The NHL’s regular season needs a facelift and the AHL may have just handed them the blueprint.

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  1. Richard Santomauro

    One of the best articles you’ve ever posted and spot on.

  2. THE hockey GOD

    They should start the season in September, end it in February, and have playoffs in MARCH to avoid all the bad ice issues that happen in middle of June. They should also CUT down on number of teams in playoff, and have “qualifying rounds” the whole month of February to eliminate the bottom feeders. But the greedy owners will not relinquish their “playoff games” revenue.

    Playing ice hockey in summer is just plain stupid.

  3. Blitz

    Not that I disagree with the article and not really my point here, but made me think of the negative of having a bye in hockey. In football, a rest week is sweet! Get guys healthy etc. Although that would be true in hockey too, but you are missing out on some sweet revenue by missing an entire series. Assuming there isn’t some hidden revenue that I don’t understand and that revenue comes from home games and tv money. Hell a series could come down to 7 games and that means 4 games of home revenue lost. From a winning stand point and team health, practice etc, I would agree with a more season points rewarding format, but hell hockey is struggling and missing at least 4 games seems like money lost.

    I do like more reward for a good reg season. Seems kind of dumb to play so many games that can become virtually worthless as long as you make the cut.

    • THE hockey GOD


      not only that, unlike football, hockey is more like baseball. A bye of a week or more and players quickly lose their timing. That can easily hurt their momentum in a seven game series.

      I am not for byes in hockey, I am for shorter playoff season, and more qualifying rounds during the regular season.

      Another possibility is splitting the season in two halves, with qualifiers based upon where teams finish during each half giving value to games all season long.

      • Blitz

        I agree completely, bye, momentum etc. I like the idea of having more incentive/value in the season. Probably some neg to that approach as well, like if team wins early, they might phone it in the second half etc.

        Changing subjects slightly, but triggered from your comments. In hindsight this last year, at least the presidents trophy kept some excitement in the finish, but keeping the foot on the gas, I think, was at the expense of letting guys rest some games. Running a short bench with a aggressive schedule didn’t help the health and stamina of this team for the playoff long haul.

        • THE hockey GOD

          I agree with that assessment in last paragraph.

          If a “team phones it in” and “sandbags” too much in the second half then their playoff “seeding” may be impacted too much. But I here what you are saying.

  4. It wasn’t too long ago that the first round was a best of 5…..In my opinion it made the first round much more interesting and entertaining. Lot’s of “upsets”

    • THE hockey GOD

      “lots of upsets” That is why they did away with it.

      playoffs are far too long, it is not a game of hockey it is a game of survival and who can survive the bashing in of the heads. Now you know why TUCH wasn’t hitting anybody. He was injured. And likely so were 81 and 67. I will never understand why players play hurt in playoffs at detriment of their team winning.

  5. Richard Santomauro

    Of course the Knights want to change the playoff format to a new one, , they havent done anything in the old one.

    • Haven’t done anything @ Richard? Wtf are you talking about? You people who say VGK has failed or hasn’t done anything since beginning blow my mind man…they have exceeded what ANY expansion team in any league in the US has ever done their first season and have gone further in the playoffs multiple times than so many other teams that have been around forever….geez they JUST finished in the semis 2 years in a row along with a finals appearance their first year…haven’t done anything? Lmao man

  6. Tim

    I’m a little confused how the AHL is going to help us but as far as I’m concerned having 20 skaters will solve our cap problem of last year only dressing 15 or 16 players at times. That cost us the President’s trophy and I believe we ran out of gas against Montreal which cost us the series.I’m sure you are probably aware of this but speaking of the AHL our new arena will open in early April for Silver Knights games. Now that sounds pretty exciting to me.

  7. Jpax

    Do any other international hockey leagues do a “commissioner’s cup” like the WNBA is doing this year?

    • I haven’t seen anything like that other than in soccer. The challenge with those is that the teams have to truly value it and I don’t see NHL teams valuing anything other than winning the Stanley Cup.

  8. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    The Knights have one cup final and two cup semi-finals in four playoffs.

    I’m not sure that would qualify as: “They haven’t done anything” (in the playoffs).

  9. VegasGoldenKlaytons

    Can anyone tell me wtH they wasted 2.325 AAV of space on this backup pipe tender? Why not bring up LT for the xp for him with a VERY team friendly contract to boot? He could be panda’s backup for a few years and get tons of xp and either be a very experienced 1G of the future or turn into a decent trading piece later on if we eventually get him to the level of sharing the games a la 20-21? I’d rather see then nurse him into a “franchise 1G” and have him get enough xp to take over that spot from Lehner in a few years time, allowing them to lock a great G into a long term cheaper than norm contract right before Lehners contract expires…

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