Idea of baseball-like play-in wild-card game called 'stupid,' generally shot down by players, GMs

ByChuck Gormley ESPN logo
Monday, December 12, 2016

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, a driving force behind the NHL adopting its wildly popular 3-on-3 overtime, wondered recently how exciting it would be for the league to adopt a wild-card play-in game similar to what is used by Major League Baseball.

The proposal would add a third wild-card playoff team to each conference, with the bottom two wild-card teams facing each other in a one-game playoff to determine which team advances to a first-round playoff series. The idea was discussed at last week's board of governors meetings in Florida.

"Personally, I'm not in favor of it," Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "I think we demand a lot of our players and playing more games, I don't think, is a solution.

Hextall said that considering the teams play a preseason with a minimum of seven games, 82 games in the regular season and up to two months in the playoffs, plus the potential of the Olympics and World Cup every other season, "we've got to be really careful of putting our players through more than we already do."

Under Holland's plan, if the current season ended Sunday, the ninth-seeded New Jersey Devils (30 points) would face the second wild-card team in the East, the Washington Capitals (37 points), in the Eastern Conference play-in game. The ninth-seeded Winnipeg Jets (29 points) would face off against the second wild-card Los Angeles Kings (30 points) in the West.

"It is something we've discussed and it has gained some traction," Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "But what if the second wild-card team has a six-point lead on the ninth-place team? Should they be knocked out of the playoffs because they lose one game?"

In the three seasons since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when the Columbus Blue Jackets missed the playoffs despite being tied in points with the Minnesota Wild, at least two points have separated the second wild-card team from the ninth-seeded non-playoff team in each conference.

That alone, Florida Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko said, should be reason enough to keep the current playoff format unchanged.

"I think it's fine the way it is," Luukko said. "I mean, we're playing 82 games. I think it's fair and I think it's really working. It's coming down to the end of the season anyway right now. It couldn't be more exciting. I just think that kind of cheapens it."

Nill said there have been discussions among general managers about giving the No. 1 playoff seed more of a reward for finishing with the best record in each conference, perhaps by increasing their number of first-round home games from four to five.

That idea might be more palatable to the players than adding an extra game to their schedules.

"I think it's stupid," Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. "A one-game playoff? I don't think this is baseball. You have 82 games to get in the playoffs. If you're not in, you're out."

Teammate Wayne Simmonds agreed.

"You get in, you get in," he said. "There should be no play-in game. You finish one through eight, you're in the playoffs. You finish ninth and you lose a tiebreaker by goal differential or something else, it's too bad. The tiebreakers are fine, why change it now?"