Today, the NHL announced its plan to resume play should circumstances dictate it is safe to do so. The regular season is now over, and the league will launch right into a 24-team playoff from the get-go when it resumes play. Seeds five through 12 in each conference will play a best-of-five series to open things up, while the top four seeds from each conference will play a round robin tournament to determine seeding for the next rounds. Here's what it would look like:
This could provide a blueprint for the NBA, which is going through similar processes to determine what a return to play would look like. The most recent idea to garner the attention of the masses is a World Cup-esque group stage, which has its pros and cons. This idea would allow for some warm-up games for the top four seeds that matter, but not so much so that the inevitable rust that must be shaken off will sink them from the outset.
If the NBA adopted this here's what it would look like:
- Six teams would NOT make the playoffs: the Warriors, the Timberwolves, the Suns, the Pistons, the Hawks, and the Cavaliers.
- The Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, and Nuggets would play in a round-robin tournament with the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, and Heat to determine the top four seeds of each conference.
- The five through 12 seeds would match up in a best-of-five round one matchup in each conference. Ex: Pacers vs. Knicks in the East, Thunder vs. Spurs in the West, so on and so forth.
The best-of-five series to start off would act as a de-facto extra playoff round. The end result would still be eight teams from each conference, with four best-of-seven series between them and an NBA title.
The biggest benefit to this format is giving warm-up games some meaning. The eight best teams by record would get back in their grooves against elite competition, while the lower seeds would get favorable matchups in meaningful games that will very likely result in the same outcome as if the NBA jumped right into the playoffs. It's not a foregone conclusion the Pacers will beat the Knicks, but no one outside of New York expects anything else. It also means we get some very fun matchups in the West -- Portland vs. Memphis and Dallas vs. New Orleans would be appointment viewing, even if the basketball might be ugly.
No solution will please everyone, but this comes the closest. Regular-season records have some significance. The best teams get a first-round bye with the opportunity to get their legs back under them. Teams just outside of the bubble in normal times get their chance to prove they belong in the postseason. And, the more teams that play, the more money that comes in from local and national broadcasts.
Now is the time to try something unorthodox, but the league should be careful to not be too dramatically innovative. This is a happy medium that will be tough to top.