The OHL Playoff structure is hurting the best teams

By Adam (@ElSeldo)

Last summer I wrote about how the OHL needs to change it’s conference/playoff structure. The issue of Hamilton being in the East Division and being farther west than the entire Central Division needs to be corrected, and you can read my take on it here, but it comes down to dropping the divisions and just going with two conferences.

I also spoke of the OHL moving to a 1-16 seeding structure, like the QMJHL, and how this doesn’t hurt any teams too much for travel.

Below are the 2016/17 OHL standings if we seed 1-16*:


*Conference leaders go 1-2 because they would never not do this.

Saginaw goes from being eliminated to the 14 seed, and Niagara finds their playoff streak over after nine seasons, instead of continuing forever like it will.

So I’ve been tweeting about it and talking about it for over a year, I’m a strong advocate of the 1-16 seeding, so what are the benefits?

The best teams get in.

This is the most obvious one. In five out of the past eight seasons, one team that should have been in the playoffs was kept out due to the conference playoff system. These weren’t world beaters by any means, at most they moved from 17th to 14th. Little difference to the top seeded teams, but being held out of at least four extra games because your team is located 400km to the left of the other is silly.

The best teams have better chances.

Say you’re Warren Rychel, and your Spitfires have been having a very good season, you’re not the Otters or Greyhounds, but 90 points is nothing to sneeze at. You’re the Memorial Cup host, and you want to do well to prove you belong there. What’s your reward right now? You get to face off against the London Knights in the first round. Going up against the defending OHL and Memorial Cup champions isn’t the best way to start your playoffs. Meanwhile over in the Eastern Conference, The Peterborough Petes are the number one seed there (and finished with one less point than you) and they’re playing the Niagara IceDogs – a rebuilding team that just barely made it into the playoffs.

You’re better than the Petes, but because they’re farther east they get an easier schedule?

While the Petes would still get a sweetheart opponent in round one under 1-16 – because Conferences are important and their winners need to be rewarded according to every hockey league, the Spitfires would face the Hamilton Bulldogs, a team that finished with 16 fewer points AND you’d get home ice in this series, somehting you don’t get with London.

Look at the above chart. 5/8 teams are from the West, and all are the top 8 teams in the league. They all get home ice.

The middling teams aren’t punished or rewarded anymore.

The OHL Central Division is….bad. Only one team finished with more than 80 points, and that team – Mississauga with 81 points – gets to sit as the second seed in the Eastern conference right now. In a 1-16 format they barely get home ice. This system would put most teams in their proper place. Don’t have a great season? Well, you’ll play someone of equal value, in the Steelheads case it’s Kitchener, who were only four points back.

This benefits the Rangers right now as well. They finished sixth in the OHL Western Conference and at the moment would play the Owen Sound Attack, a team that seems to have gotten better each week leading up to the end of the season, and finished just two points from winning the regular season championship. Instead of being fodder for the Attack, they’d line up with a more evenly matched Mississauga team.

Better story lines.

Upsets get better when there’s a bigger gap between teams. The Ottawa 67’s barely cracked the top 16 teams in the OHL. What if they get hot at the right time and upset the Erie Otters, the team that’s been picked by many to win the Memorial Cup. Every year in the Q a team seeded 10th or under upsets the top team. In 2015 the 14th seeded Gatineau Olympiques knocked #3 Blainesville-Broisband Armada out of the playoffs.

To compare to this OHL seeding, it would be the Saginaw Spirit (eliminated right now) taking out the Owen Sound Attack – again who were two points from being #1 in the OHL.

How big would that be? How much would that mean to the fans in Saginaw (not to mention the team who would have ended up vs the attack in round two)? People love March Madness for the upsets, and the only people who would hate them are the eliminated teams and their fans.

Aside from upsets, who wouldn’t want to see a final of the two best teams in the OHL? This format gives us the chance, where the at best would give us the 103 points Erie Otters curb stomping the 89 point Peterborough Petes. If we could see the Otters take on the Attack? Now that’s a playoff series.

The downsides.

There are only two small downsides I can think of. One is travel. Some teams saw an increase of 300 kilometres in travel, but some also saw a decrease of almost 400km. This is one way travel as well, so Mississauga saves 800km – or 8 hours-ish – of travel to get to Kitchener rather than Ottawa.

Number two is that moving to 1-16 would decrease playoff rivalries. This is true, and a lot of rivalries are born out of the playoffs (Oshawa vs Niagara for example was a real fun one). However, regular season rivalries could heat up if there’s a huge upset. If #15 Sudbury knocks out #2 Peterborough, or Saginaw over Owen Sound?  They’ll meet multiple times in the regular season and payback would always be on the mind.

Overall, changing the format is meant to give the best teams the best shot, and reward good players, coaching, and management with the best chance to succeed. I don’t think there’s a great argument against – there are no time zones to deal with for TV scheduling; travel is no where near as huge as in the WHL, or even the Q where they use this format. To me, this is an obvious decision for the OHL to make, and they’ve been good lately at changing the rules to be more progressive in the game. The reasoning is clear, the argument is hard to throw away.

The question is, when – not if, will they act?


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