New format for WHL playoffs

Katie Brickman
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The Western Hockey League is following the leader.

The Moose Jaw Warriors and the Regina Pats shake hands after the Warriors eliminated the Pats in Game 5 of their Western Hockey League quarter final playoff series in the 2011-2012 season. With the new playoff format, rivalries will be more prominent. Times-Herald photo by Katie Brickman

“I think it is great,” said Alan Millar, general manager for the Moose Jaw Warriors. “I think it makes a lot of sense.”

The WHL announced on Wednesday, following the annual general meeting in Vancouver, they would be implementing a new playoff format beginning this upcoming season that mirrors the changes adopted by the National Hockey League.

The changes will be in place for the next three seasons.

“Everybody felt that the NHL hit a home run with their changes, which ours are identical to,” said Millar. “I think from a hockey perspective and a fan perspective, it is a win-win. I think it puts more emphasis on division play. It creates more competitiveness within the division. I think that is good for fans and good for rivalries.”

With the new format, the first 12-playoff spots in the WHL will go to the top three teams in each of the four divisions. The last four playoff berths will go to wild card teams that finish the highest in their respective conference standings — two per side — regardless of which division they are from.

“I think it will be great in the regular season. I think the wild card races will be good for marketing and fun for fans,” said Millar. “I think it ensures, not guarantees, but ensures a number of matchups in the first round of the playoffs within the division. I think that is good for fans, rivalries and the wear and tear on the travels.”

The total number of playoff entries is still the same — eight in the 12-team Eastern Conference and eight in the 10-team Western Conference.

Both the NHL and the WHL had a format that was based on conference standings, where the top eight teams on each side qualified for the post-season with 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs.5.

Prior to that format, the WHL used a system where the top four clubs in each division made the playoffs. They stayed within their division for the first round and then crossed over to the conference format in the second round.

This is now a hybrid of those two systems.

“Going back, we ran into issues where a team in a certain division could have more points than a team in the other division and not make the playoffs,” explained Millar. “I think the top three in each division and the two wild cards protect the league from that imbalance.”

Now, with the new format, in the first round of the playoffs, the division winner with the best record in each conference will be matched against the wild card team with the lesser record. The wild card team with the better record will play the other division winner.

The teams finishing second and third in the each division will meet in the first round within the bracket. All first round winners within each bracket will play each other in the second round to determine the four participants in the conference finals.

Home ice advantage through the first and second rounds goes to the ream that place higher in the record season standings. In the conference and WHL championship final, home ice is given to the team that had the better regular season record — regardless of the teams’ final standings in their respective divisions.

It was a unanimous decision from all 22 teams in the league.

“I think it was good for our team and good for the league,” said Millar.

The GMs also discussed annual items, like the schedule, import draft and the league’s relationship with Hockey Canada. The teams also talked about health and safety.

“We will continue to look at concussion protocol and everything that encompasses the welfare of our players,” said Millar.

Follow Katie on Twitter @katiebrickman.

Organizations: National Hockey League, Hockey Canada

Geographic location: Vancouver

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