How the NHL can change with 32 teams

How the NHL Can Change with 32 Teams

By Chris Cole

March 20, 2019

The 2021-22 NHL season will be another landmark for the league as it expands to 32 teams with Seattle.  The addition of Seattle will even-out the league both in numbers as well as geographically. With 16 teams per conference it made me think of four questions that could happen with a 32-team league.  Let’s start with the obvious: questions one.

  • Two eight-team conferences or four four-team conferences?

Before the Las Vegas Golden Knights came into the league last season, the NHL operated with three five-team divisions per conference. Having four-team divisions would bring forth more rivalry games as the geographical scope of each division would be smaller. Imagine a Northeast division between Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal; a Metropolitan division of Boston, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and New Jersey; or a Central division consisting of Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit.  Having more games to play against your closest rivals would be a big plus for fans.

  • 80, 82 (current), or 84 regular season games?

I do not believe the league nor the players wish to play two more regular season games, but I bet the players would be on board for two less games before the playoffs.  If the NHL stays with the four eight-team divisions, there will be an uneven schedule so teams will not faceeach other an even amount of times (facing a team once is even to me).  Having 80 games would result in higher intensity matches near the end of the season as the bubble to get in would be much smaller.

  • Keep division playoffs or go with something different?

Get rid of the division playoffs.  We are seeing this year why having divisional playoffs for the first two rounds wouldn’t be beneficial for some teams.  The Atlantic Division this year is by far the strongest of the four and it shows in the standings: the top three Atlantic teams all have more points than the top team in the Metropolitan.  The teams in the Atlantic will have to go through the best teams in the league for TWO rounds before facing someone from the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Those match-ups in the first two rounds should be something we look forward to in the Conference semis and Conference finals, not right off the bat.  When there were three divisions per conference the division champions were given spots 1, 2, and 3 with the remaining five spots filled based on points.  With two divisions it should be the same: Spots 1 and 2 are the division champions and then every team after that gets their spot based on their record.

  • 16-team playoffs or more teams?

Keep the playoffs to 16 teams.  No reason to expand the format any further and make teams have to win more games to hoist the Cup.  I was thinking about having the top 10 for each conference with positions 7-10 playing a best-of-three play in series become teams seven and eight in the conference quarter-finals, but again, that’s just asking too much out of players and teams.  Keep it at 16 and just revamp the playoff format.

PHOTOS: Associated Press