SUN Hockey Pool

Playoffs stay sweet 16 ... for now

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For the time being, the concept of expanding the playoff format to 20 teams is on hold.

There had never been any chance of it being implemented this year because the Olympic break already produces a late end to the season.

But yesterday, the board let the matter slide which means there is no great urgency to make it part of the 2006-07 season. But it could happen.

"We made a lot changes this year," National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said. "And as it relates to the scheduling format as well, everybody said: 'Let's take our time.'

"We'll keep it as a back-burner issue. We'll look at it, but not now. Let the season play out as it is and to the extent that we want to make any adjustments, we can do it in the future."

Part of the problem is the uncertainty over the format. The most popular proposal calls for the top two teams in each division to make the playoffs. Teams finishing seventh through 10th in the conference would then stage a best-of-three "play-in" round.

"It was discussed, but there was no decision," said Richard Peddie, the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

"What we don't like is the top two teams in each division automatically make the top six. We don't think that is right, at all.

"If you're going to have six go through to the playoffs and two have to re-qualify again, make it the top six in the conference. Don't artificially have two in one division. There are some divisions now that are really weak, so why should two get in? It has not been decided, but we would not be crazy about that."

The governors gave the issue a pass yesterday because they want to gauge the impact of the heavily unbalanced schedule on the fans.

But that does not mean that they couldn't revisit the matter in a future meeting.

"We could always do it over the summer," Bettman said.

Some teams -- the ones perenially battling for the final playoff spot -- are strongly in favour of it. But others are opposed on the grounds that they feel it will affect the integrity of the game.

"I'm not sure that there is overwhelming sentiment to do it," Bettman said. "This would be a bylaw change, so it requires a two-thirds vote

"I'm not sure whether there would be enough sentiment to change it."


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