With Notre Dame set to depart Hockey East after this season, odds are that Hockey East is in the market for a 12th team, with the two most heavily rumored potential additions being Quinnipiac or Holy Cross. But in the event HEA sticks with 11 teams for the 2017-18 season, they've begun mulling potential season format changes.
According to the Bangor Daily News, at last months coaches convention, the league discussed a few potential changes that could be made for the '17-'18 season should the league not replace Notre Dame.
Regular Season Schedule
One significant change would be potentially going to 24 conference games, instead of 20 as they did the last time the league had 11 teams. According to the Bangor Daily News article, Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna discussed the possibility of having a computerized pick of four teams to play three times against, on top of the two games against the other six teams. There would be an algorithm developed to try to keep schedules balanced, so one team doesn't get a murderer's row of extra games while another gets all the bottom feeders.
This idea has some potential. While it would devalue the Hockey East regular season championship, it's generally really not something that carries a huge amou
nt of prestige or importance to begin with. This would certainly be better than the alternative of going down to a far too small 20 conference games, and adding 4 more nonconference games; the lesser-known programs are already having trouble filling their nonconference schedule as it is, while the power programs would likely have to backfill with more games against less attractive opposition.
I certainly understand why Hockey East would want to semi-randomize the extra four games, but it would be kind of a bummer from a BC perspective to add an extra game against, say, Lowell, Merrimack, Vermont and UMass while games like BU, Providence and (when they're good) Maine just don't happen nearly often enough at home. Perhaps the league could consider a 'permanent rivalry' scheduling model, where each team gets two permanent extra opponents, while the other two are determined by algorithm to try to balance the schedule?
Given the parity in the league, I doubt this type of model would make schedules significantly more unbalanced than an algorithm. It's not like there's not fluidity between the groups of teams anyway.
The last time Hockey East had 11 teams, they gave the top 5 byes, and played "octofinals" between 6 & 11, 7 & 10 and 8 & 9. Odds are, this is what they'd do in '18 as well should the need arise.
However, another possibility bandied about in the Bangor Daily News article was going to a 10-team tournament format, with 5 quarterfinal series. This would give the tournament at TD Garden a format similar to the WCHA Final Five - a Thursday play-in game between 5 & 4, then two semifinals, then a final.
This would be pretty exciting, but it would also likely create a sparsely attended Thursday game (given that Friday crowds at the Hockey East tournament are already not exactly great). I'm not sure how much interest the TD Garden would have in that.
The idea of going back to 8 teams appears to have not been discussed.
All of the changes discussed in the article would be fine, frankly. The 5-team-bye format is pretty weak, but not the end of the world. And while the format discussed for 24 league games isn't perfect, it would be nice to add a few more conference games to the schedule.
All that said, I'd expect Hockey East to go to 12; if they are at 11, it will probably be for one year only. My completely uneducated guess? They're trying to land a deal with QU and will wait it out, let them mull it over, discuss what sweeteners they need to throw in, etc. - and if it doesn't work out, I'm sure Holy Cross would be happy to pick up the phone.