The Southern Professional Hockey League just turned the traditional idea of playoffs on its head. Beginning this season, the 10-team league will allow its top teams to select their playoff opponent.
You read that correctly. The first playoff round will feature a Challenge Round Selection event in which the best three teams from the regular season will have a chance to pick their opponent from the team that finished at the bottom of the table.
Here are more specifics from the SPHL website:
The #1 seed will select their Challenge Round opponent first. The #2 seed will then select their opponent from the remaining three teams, after which the #3 seed will select from the remaining two teams. The #4 seed will play the team that was not selected previously. All series are best-of-three.
Past the opening round, the second round reverts back to a more traditional format based on the original seeding. The final, obviously, features the final two teams.
As insane as that sounds, it also sounds pretty awesome. Can you imagine the chaos and excitement this type of idea would create in the NHL? What a crazy world it would be if Alex Ovechkin came out on some sort of grand stage and announced that the Washington Capitals were selecting the Toronto Maple Leafs as their opening opponent. Imagine the insane rivalries and commotion such a system could create. At the same time, imagine an underdog overthrowing a top team that called them out by name. Talk about satisfying. Meanwhile, the idea of scouting would take on a whole different meaning ahead of the playoffs.
The SPHL is a relatively unknown hockey league playing in the southeast and midwest of the United States. Prior to this article, there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of the SPHL even if you call yourself a serious hockey fan. Whether or not you think this idea is a gimmick or a brilliant twist, you have to give the league credit for trying something new and creating lots of buzz.