With the NHL and NBA playoffs in full swing, I find one current series from the first round of each sport to be of particular interest. In the NBA, the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies have the San Antonio Spurs, owners of the best regular-season record in the conference and second best in the league, on the ropes — Memphis is up three games to one, and needs just one more win to eliminate San Antonio.
Over in the (much more watchable, interesting and exciting) NHL, the eighth-seeded Chicago Blackhawks had a chance to eliminate the Vancouver Canucks (winners of the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best regular-season record) last night in Vancouver. After losing the first three games of the seven-game series, the Hawks roared back, reeling off three straight wins and looking like the hottest team in the game.
It seems that in both of these series, the top seed got the misfortune of drawing the team that happened to get hot at the right time. Though the Spurs and the Canucks are probably more talented teams overall, they found themselves at risk for an early departure at the hands of opponents they were supposed to crush with ease.
This column isn’t an argument for eliminating playoffs in favor of a BCS-style system that simply matches the regular season champions from each conference in the finals — I am 100 percent in favor of the playoffs as they exist, with eight teams from each conference dueling it out in seven-game series.
At the same time, I think teams with better regular season records need to be rewarded with more that just one more home game. Teams with high seeds could have the misfortune of drawing an extremely hot team, or a team that came on strong late in the season due to coaching or personnel changes. Matching the top seed with the eighth seed doesn’t always create the best matchup for the top team, even though the idea behind that system is to reward the No. 1 seeds with an easier road to the finals.
So, I propose a “playoff draft” of sorts, where the highest seeds get rewarded with the opportunity to not only enjoy home-court or home-ice advantage, but also get to choose their first round matchup. After playing other teams in their conference over the course of the year and studying game film, coaches know which teams they will match up well against, and also have an idea of which team is entering the playoffs on a hot streak and which ones are stone cold. The preferred opponent might not always be the lowest seed, so coaches should be free to create the matchups most conducive to victory.
The top seed in each conference would get the opportunity to pick its matchup, then the second seed would select out of the remaining teams, and so on, until all four matchups are set.
In the (admittedly unlikely) event that the top seed chose the second seed, then the third seed would get the next choice, and so on. In order to reward lower seeds that make it out of the first round, second-round seeding would be on the current system, with the top seed matched against the lowest seed remaining and the two teams in the middle matched against each other.
This playoff system would give better rewards to teams with higher regular-season records, while still allowing lower seeds a chance at a run for a title. It would prevent the series that happen every year, where a high seed is punished by drawing a dangerous lower seed that comes into the playoffs on a strong run and matches up well against the higher seed. There are many examples of this phenomenon<\p>–<\p>the one seared into my head is when the second-seeded New Jersey Devils got bounced from the first round last year by a band of brigands and miscreants masquerading as a hockey team (aka the Philadelphia Flyers).
Kabir Sawhney also thinks it’d be fun to have NBA teams choose to play against NHL teams, and vice-versa. Tell him why this is a bad idea at ksawhney”at”stanford.edu.