Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Wild Card Action

With the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles playing a one-game wild card game to see who gets the right to face the Texas Rangers, there were some who suggested that the wild card game brought meaning to games that would be otherwise meaningless if there were only one wild card team. The extrapolation of that thought is that there should be a wild card team in hockey. We have excellent teams who miss the playoffs due to the division they play in, and the thought is that this team should get a shot to play for their playoff lives.

Let me make this short and very clear: NO.

The divisional playoff format in the NHL is something unique to hockey. Football doesn't have it. Baseball doesn't have it. Basketball doesn't have it. It is vital to hockey in that it builds rivalries, it cements hatreds for teams that visit all too often, and it renews passions between teams, players, and fan bases that are only seen when teams who exist a little close for comfort meet in a winner-take-all, do-or-die playoff series.

You never get a Mets-Yankees series in baseball that means something, but an Islanders-Rangers playoff series could potentially be an annual thing. The Cubs and Cardinals may have a long history, but they don't have the same vitriol between them as the Blackhawks and Blues do. There's almost zero chance that fans in Florida will see the Rays and Marlins meet for anything meaningful, but the Panthers and Lightning could meet in the playoffs with bragging rights and potentially a Stanley Cup going to the winners.

Look, this isn't an article that is meant to bring down any of the other sports and their playoff formats. Each has found something that works for them. The NHL has done the same, and I personally like the idea of a Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series or a Los Angeles-Anaheim series or a Calgary-Edmonton series to open the playoffs. The proximity of the cities breeds contempt for the opposition in hockey, and that's why the divisional format works for the NHL.

As I write this, it's 2-2 in the seventh inning between the Blue Jays and Orioles. Let baseball have the wild card games. It makes baseball fun and gets more fans involved late into the season. Hockey doesn't need a wild card with sixteen of thirty - soon to be thirty-one teams - already qualifying for the playoffs.

I'm off to watch the rest of this game. Let's go Blue Jays!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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