Starting next season, the Hockey East Tournament will expand to qualify all conference members.
For the 2014 tournament, the format will expand to include all 11 programs (including newcomer Notre Dame) and the following year, the tournament will expand to 12 (Connecticut). Hockey East is currently the only conference in the country that doesn't qualify all of its league members for the postseason tournament.
The 2014 Hockey East Tournament will include all 11 programs with the top five teams receiving first-round byes. Teams seeded sixth through eighth will host the first-round of the tournament in a yet to be determined format. HEA will determine whether to use a single elimination, winner-take-all game or a best-of-three series. The following season, the top four teams will receive first-round byes, while teams seeded fifth through eight hosting the first-round of the playoffs.
In order to accommodate an additional round of the playoffs, the Hockey East regular season will end a week early.
Count me among those opposed to this move.
Including all 11 (2014) and 12 (2015) programs only increases the chances that a non-TUC program -- looking at you, 2011-12 Vermont and every season UConn -- faces an NCAA Tournament bubble team. The result is a missed opportunity for a bubble team to add to their TUC record and NCAA Tournament resume. This likely won't have much of an impact in the first year of an expanded HEA Tournament, when the sixth seed takes on the 11th seed. Six teams from one conference in the tournament seems highly unlikely. However, this may have a much bigger impact the following season, when the fifth best team in the conference will have to play the
last-place team UConn in the first-round of the 2015 tournament.
For the programs that do receive first-round byes, they'll now have to deal with having an extra week off between the end of the regular season and the Hockey East quarterfinals. Boston College, in particular, has been more or less unstoppable when they've gotten on their March-April roll and plowed through the Hockey East Tournament en route to titles in 2008, 2010 and 2012. How will programs like Boston College and Boston University deal with a week off that late in the season? This may or may not be correlated, but this hasn't exactly worked well for programs from other power conferences who have had to take off weekend in mid-March. See also: four of the last five National Champions hail from Hockey East.
Moving the regular season back a week could actually hurt attendance league-wide given HEA will now be playing fewer games on what is today the final weekend of the regular season and more games presumably over winter break (to make up for the extra week). Traditionally, the Hockey East Quarterfinals have fallen on BC's spring break resulting in smaller gate, but adding an extra round of playoffs doesn't help things here either.
There's also this minor detail about flying programs out to Notre Dame for the first-round, Quarterfinals or both rounds that could prove costly to the programs most likely to end up getting shipped out to Indiana.
If HEA wants to do this right, they'll leave the Hockey East Tournament as is. Since the conference's coaches and athletic directors have spoken, the next best thing would be to leave the Hockey East regular season as is and play a single elimination, winner-take all game on the Tuesday before the Hockey East quarterfinals begin the following Friday-Sunday. This would allow all programs to participate in the postseason while simultaneously:
a) minimizing the number of games between NCAA Tournament bubble teams and PWR bottom-feeders
b) eliminating any downtime between the first-round and Quarterfinals for teams receiving first-round byes
c) limiting the number of games where you are flying a program from the Northeast to South Bend to a max four, and
d) keeping the existing Hockey East Tournament format largely in tact
This revised format makes sense on a lot of levels which is precisely why it won't fly. Leave it to Hockey East to not only screw up conference realignment but to also mess with one of the best things about the conference -- the postseason conference tournament.