SPHL Announces Change to Playoff Format

It isn’t too often that you see an extreme change in the sport of hockey. For the most part, the game has remain untouched for many years. What does change over time is the quality of players, safety and efficiency of equipment (there was once a time when goalies didn’t wear masks and stick blades weren’t curved), but most importantly, the rules and procedures the game is played by. Whether it’s incorporating a trapezoid, bearing down on faceoff issues, or realigning conferences and divisions, fans and players alike have had to adjust to new league policies over the years. A recent change to the SPHL playoff format is starting to attract a lot of attention because it is, well, extreme.

The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) was founded in 2004 and currently has 10 active teams. It is the most established level of professional hockey in North America beyond the ECHL. The league is home to former Collegiate and Juniors players who simply want to keep their careers alive. The league (as the title suggest) should also be credited for bringing the sport of hockey to a market that is not usually thought of. Generally speaking, hockey is not prevalent in the southern part of the United States, largely due to competition among other sports, but the SPHL has steadily changed that. They have slowly attracted more followers and fans, but a recent announcement may be the game-changing decision they need for even further success.

Yesterday, the organization announced that their teams would now be subject to a “Challenge Round” during the opening round of the SPHL Playoffs. This decision will surely turn a few heads and lead to quite a bit of speculation. Immediately see the term “Challenge Round” and wonder what it means and what the league is attempting to do. So, let’s break this down:

– The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs

– The top three teams earn the opportunity to choose their first round opponent

– The fourth-place team will square off against the remaining opponent

– All pairs will face off in a best-of-three series

– The winning teams will be re-seeded for the second round

The SPHL will forgo the typical system of seeding teams based on their regular season record and allow the top finishers in the league (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) to choose their first-round opponent (mind…blown…). I have witnessed some crazy ideas, but this one tops them all. Is it really that insane? Will it even last beyond this season? Even though it’s such a weird idea, why do I kind of like it? So many questions…

Let’s be honest with ourselves: the NHL regular season doesn’t always correlate to the NHL post season. When was the last time a Presidents’ Trophy winner also took home the Stanley Cup? *Quick Google Search* Well, it was done by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 12-13 season, but it has only occurred twice in the last 15 seasons. Teams sometimes lose the mentality that every game matters and often times only concern themselves with securing a playoff spot. A Presidents’ Trophy is always a nice pat on the back, but we all know the Stanley Cup is what matters.

The SPHL is taking a risk, trying something new, and attempting to throw a carrot on a stick that any organization will want to chase after. It’s different, but very creative. Their hope is to see improved play during the regular season, as well as higher attendance numbers during the playoffs. They really have nothing to lose. It could flop, but if it does, it’s back to the drawing board. Low risk, high reward, why wouldn’t you take a shot at it?

At this point, you have to be thinking the same thing that all hockey fans are pondering: Is there any way the NHL would actually try this? Simply put, probably not. This type of change could seriously shock the NHL fan base, potentially not in a good way. The league has competed with the NFL and NBA over viewers for years and it’s unlikely they try something that could risk their fan support. However, a current poll at NBC Sports reveals roughly 64% of voters would like to see the NHL attempt something like this. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some league officials out there are keeping an eye on this situation to see how it pans out. They won’t jump right in, but the SPHL may have created a ripple effect that could eventually impact other hockey leagues.

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