What’s wrong with the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Several things, I think.
- Any championship should build to a climax. The Stanley Cup playoffs do the reverse. They start out with four games a night. There is nonstop action, excitement. The games are everywhere, on many TV channels, and everybody is talking about them. Then the playoffs slowly peter out, dropping to two games a night, then one game a night, and, in the final, one game every other night. Sometimes there are two or three days off between games. People forget the playoffs are still going on.
- It would be one thing if the games got better and better as the weaker teams are eliminated. But the reverse often happens. The Stanley Cup playoffs, following weeks of pre-season practice and exhibition games and then an 82-game schedule, are not a sprint. They are a marathon, an endurance competition. As the players become more tired and banged up, the games get sloppy, the players make more mistakes, and teams are more likely to collapse out of emotional exhaustion if they fall behind.
- The fans also drop off. When the playoffs begin, a majority of fans still have a team to root for (16 of the 30 teams make the playoffs), and the rest of the fans have had a team to root for until just a few days previously and may still be interested. But fans lose interest as their team is eliminated (8 more teams in the first round). Then their second choice, the team that they “wouldn’t mind” winning, gets eliminated. By the time it gets down to the last round, over 93 percent of hockey fans no longer have a team to root for. I once asked an Edmonton Oilers fan who he cheered for when the Vancouver Canucks played the Calgary Flames. He said, “Neither. I just hope they pound each other into the ice.” With their teams eliminated, most fans are more focused on their own team’s new coach, new general manager, or potential draft picks than they are on who wins the Stanley Cup. They may not even notice who wins.
- And then there is the weather. As spring moves into summer, fans walk away from their television sets and head outdoors into the sunshine. Hockey seems more and more irrelevant.
What’s wrong with the Stanley Cup playoffs is that they drag on too long, long past the time when most people care who wins.