The AHL playoff format and why NHL fans should get ready to see something like it

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
1 year ago
The NHL’s current playoff format isn’t the greatest, but what if I told you there might be some change in the future?
As it stands right now, the top three teams from each of the four divisions — plus two wild card teams from each conference — make the playoffs. It’s not the most popular format out there.
It’s in fact flawed.
Having two teams such as the Maple Leafs and Lightning facing off in the first round, as exciting of a series it is, just shouldn’t happen.
Who enjoys seeing two of the NHL’s top “Stanley Cup contenders” as some might say, battle it out in the first round? You’re cutting the excitement in half after the opening series.
A lot of fans reminisce on the days when the NHL’s playoff format took the top-eight teams from each conference, having the number one team face the eighth seed and so on.
It was more fun. It made sense. It allowed for more cinderella stories that the current playoff format doesn’t.
As good as it was, I highly doubt we see it for a long time. Partly due to the NHL saying they’re not going back to it, but also because of what the AHL is currently testing out.
If you don’t already know — with the AHL being the league right below the NHL — they’re usually the first to try something before it makes it to the league above.
They did it with the hybrid icings back in 2012 and they even tested the goalie trapezoid before it made its way to the NHL.
And now, they’re trying out something totally different — a new playoff format.
In August of 2021, the AHL announced they were changing up how the playoffs were played. 16 teams qualified before the change in 2021, and now 23 of the AHL’s 32 teams will make the playoffs.
“The playoff field will include the top six finishers in the eight-team Atlantic Division, the top five finishers each in the seven-team North and Central Divisions, and the top seven teams in the 10-team Pacific Division.” Said The AHL in a statement back in July of 2022.
“First Round match-ups will be best-of-three series; the two highest seeds in the Atlantic, the three highest seeds in each of the North and Central, and the first-place team in the Pacific will receive byes into the best-of-five Division Semifinals, with the First Round winners re-seeded in each division.
“The Division Finals will also be best-of-five series, followed by best-of-seven Conference Finals and a best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series.”
This is what the playoffs would look like in bracket form, courtesy of The AHL.
A 23-team playoff, to me, is quite a lot to handle. It’s sort of similar to the MLB, where they have the wild card series before the playoffs really get underway. Some people like it, others don’t.
It’s a very different postseason than anything we’ve seen before. Maybe it turns out to be a success, maybe it doesn’t.
But one thing is certain: If fans do enjoy the way the playoffs are played — in this format — we might just see a similar rendition at the NHL level in the years to come.

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