According to a report in College Hockey News, last week Hockey East athletic directors approved the new playoff system for the league. Under the new format, all programs will qualify for the postseason for the first time in 19 seasons.
This coming season, the first and only as an 11-member league with the addition of Notre Dame, the top five teams will receive first-round byes. The bottom six teams will compete in a one-game playoff -- 6 vs. 11, 7, vs. 10, 8 vs. 9 -- with the winners advancing to a best-of-three quarterfinals series.
When the conference expands to 12 once Connecticut joins the league in 2015, only the top four teams will receive first-round byes while the bottom eight teams participate in a one-game playoff -- 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9.
Presumably Hockey East will keep other aspects of the tournament constant -- reseeding both the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, semis and title game at
Sears Centre Arena the Garden.
This is a unique tournament format unlike ones employed by other leagues in recent years. The 11-member CCHA qualified all teams and gave the first five teams first-round byes. Teams 6-11 played in a best-of-three first-round series to determine which programs advanced to the quarterfinal round, also a best-of-three series.
Out west in the WCHA, all 12 programs played in a first-round, best of three series, with the six winners of the first round advancing to the Final Five (but with six teams), for the single-elimination quarterfinals (3 vs. highest remaining seed, 4 vs. lowest remaining seed), semis and championship game.
The ECAC and Atlantic Hockey, both 12 member leagues, stage their tournaments slightly differently from the WCHA. The top four programs all receive first-round byes, with 5-12 playing in a first-round best of three series on campus sites. The winners advance to the quarterfinals, again a best-of-three on the higher seeds' home ice.
What I'm interested in understanding is how the scheduling works for each round of the tournament. This is how the schedule looks for those Hockey East programs which have already released schedules for 2013-14:
7-9 Fri.-Sun. First Round Hockey East Playoffs (at Campus Sites) TBA
14-16 Fri.-Sun. Quarterfinals Hockey East Playoffs (at Campus Sites) TBA
21-22 Fri.-Sat. Hockey East Championships (TD Garden, at Boston, Mass.) TBA
Are we really going to use an entire weekend of the season to stage three to four single-game elimination series? That seems like overkill.
What I would prefer, if you can overcome the logistics of sending teams to places like South Bend, Burlington (lol) or Orono on two- to three-days notice, is to stage the single-elimination first-round series during the week -- leaving the quarterfinals to be played on its traditional date on the calendar (the first weekend following the conclusion of the regular season). Personally, I don't see the late-season off week as being all that beneficial for the top four or five seeds. Time and again, we've seen BC teams get up a head of steam and roll through the postseason en route to a title; in no small part because they are able to play meaningful hockey games down the stretch. I fear a week off that late into the season can do as much harm as it can good for a hot team heading into the National Tournament.
The other aspect of the tournament format that I dislike is the single-elimination format for the first-round games. While things tend to even out a bit over a three-game series, as we are well aware, anything can happen with single-elimination hockey.
Under the current format, teams on the bubble are somewhat insulated from playing teams at the bottom of the league standings. The partial qualifier format (only eight of 10 qualify for the current Hockey East Tournament) and fixed 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5 quarterfinal matchups help teams hovering around the PWR NCAA Tournament cut line from playing a non-TUC (assuming that the top 2-3 seeds are in a decent position to make the NCAAs at the start of the tournament).
With the new format, the worst case scenario is having 1 vs. 12, 2 vs. 11, 3 vs. 10 and 4 vs. 9 quarterfinals pairings, with all four of the top seeds facing non-TUCs in a best-of-three. Whether this scenario comes about and whether this ever adversely affects a bubble team's NCAA Tournament berth remains to be seen, but I don't see how this tournament format is better than the 11- and 12-team ones employed by the other four conferences. The only perceived benefit here is more exciting first-round games, but I don't think the benefit outweighs the potential costs of this format.