*Note: I wrote and posted this prior to listening to the most recent PHFuture Considerations ("They're All Stars"), but they talk about the playoffs there and have some really good points, so if you read this and want more, check it out. In fact, you should check it out anyway, it's a great podcast!*
As I write this, we still don’t know what the format will be for the PHF playoffs. These sorts of things should be decided before the season even starts. Coaches and teams make season plans and it’s really hard when you don’t know what your endgame looks like. It would be nice to have a consistent format they could stick with for several years, so we wouldn’t have to worry about an announcement mid-season. That being said, without a format announced, why not have fun speculating about what the playoffs could look like? Here’s my wishlist for the PHF playoffs, for this year (and years to come).
Wish 1: Top four teams make the playoffs
According to Dan Rice’s column Around the Rink, this is probably what is going to happen this year. Having a firm cutoff makes the regular season matter. Four teams makes playoff matchups easy to set up and you won’t need any confusing play-in games. Four teams is also a number the league could stick with for a few years, even with expansion. I would argue a four team playoff would be pretty fair, even up to a ten team league. It would certainly make the regular season very competitive.
Wish 2: Semi-finals and finals should be a series
There are so many reasons these teams should be playing a series. The number one reason is that more games means more opportunities for the top teams and top players to show off how spectacular they are. More games means more heroes. More games means more story-lines. More games gives more people a chance to tune in and see what’s happening. Maybe someone misses the first game of the series, but they hear all about some ridiculous goal or some spicy drama. A series gives them a chance to tune in and see what will happen next in that matchup.
Wish 3: Go all out on media production
Playoff games are always going to have more viewers. They’re a league’s opportunity to showcase their top teams and talent. In other words, these games gotta look good. Production of regular season games in the PHF is all over the place. While many of the team’s home buildings have limitations, I strongly believe that careful and in depth preparation could create fantastic media experiences for those viewing from the screen. I always think of NBC’s production of the 2021 playoffs after the Lake Placid season. Previous to those finals, games at Warrior Ice Arena looked bad. The camera’s were fuzzy with bizarre contrasts and their main camera filmed through black netting that was really prominent in the feed. Even when the camera operation was skillful, games were very difficult to watch. NBC’s production, though? The PHF has rarely looked that good on screen. It makes me think that even in those tough arenas, if the PHF really focused on their media production, they could make almost any arena look good.
Wish 4: Play in PHF markets
I think one of the reasons the playoffs were in Florida last year was related to my last point: they wanted a rink they could make look good on a stream. That being said, the PHF is never going to look as good on screen as it does live. This is just a hockey thing. Ultra talented fast paced hockey is just on another level when you see it in person. The fans who have stuck with their teams throughout the year should have a chance to see them in person when the stakes are the highest. And teams who make the playoffs deserve to have their fans cheering them on.
Wish 5: 5 game playoff series
Now, this is probably the most "wishy" part of my wishlist. When Dan Rice mentioned the playoffs in his ATR article, he said he hoped it would be three game series. A three game series would rock. But imagine the potential of a five game series.
Have games one and two in front of the lower seeded crowd. Then, the teams would have a week to regroup, and travel to the higher seed’s barn for the final three games. This would ensure the higher seed would have home ice advantage for any of the decisive win or go home games. Since this is my wish-list, take extra care not to run games at the exact same time during the semifinals.
That week in between would be a great opportunity to build storylines and tension. Media outlets would have a whole week to discuss the first two games, make predictions, interview players, and really hype up that second weekend of games. Who is emerging as a superstar? Who is getting under who’s skin? What are the key matchups?
To me, sports is about building stories, and stories take time. I think this was one of my big frustrations with the last two years of playoffs. They happened in a flash. This proposed setup would take four weeks, allowing for that feeling of buildup you get with a true playoff season.
The upsets, the series turnarounds, the battles, the goals, the tension, all of it building and building as the best of the best get to show off what they’re truly made of.
I think this setup is totally doable for the PHF, but I don’t know a lot about how their decision making process works. Whatever they decide, hopefully we’ll find out sooner than later.