The BCHL has changed the playoff format for the Coastal Conference this season. It is reverting back to a conference format instead of a divisional format as was originally planned prior to the season.
At the start of the season, the Coastal conference was re-aligned to two divisions. The Mainland and Island. Powell River, which in years past has been considered and island team moved to the mainland to form a pair of four team divisions. The Island consisting of Victoria, Nanaimo, Cowichan Valley and Alberni Valley. And the mainland, consisting of Burnaby, Langley, Surrey and Powell River.
Come playoff time, the winner of each division would have a first round bye, then the 2nd place team would play the 3rd place team with the 4th place club missing the playoffs. The first round would see the teams play a best of 5 series with the winner facing the division champion in a best of 7 2nd round matchup. Then the winner of the two division finals series would face each other in the Coastal Conference finals.
This years format has now been changed to go back to last years conference format. The top 2 teams in the conference would get a first round bye. That would leave the 3rd seed to play the 6th seed and the 4th seed play the 5th seed in a best of 5. Seeds 7&8 would not make the playoffs. Then the winners of the first round series play the teams with the first round bye. The number 1 seed would face the lowest remaining team based on regular season points. Then the 2nd seed would play the team with the 2nd lowest remaining team based on regular season points.
If the playoffs were to begin today, Powell River and Nanaimo would have first round byes. Victoria would play Burnaby and Langley would play Cowichan Valley. Surrey and Alberni Valley would miss the playoffs.
The idea behind the change is to keep more teams in the hunt for the playoff race. Surrey's 3-0 win yesterday over Burnaby kept the Eagles within striking distance for the final playoff spot. Just 4 points back with the Eagles having 3 games in hand. Last night's game was a huge 4 point swing in the standings, if the Express prevailed they would have opened up a huge 8 point cushion for the final playoff spot.
But does the change really make for a better playoff race? I don't think so. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs are 10 points back of the final playoff spot and have 2 games in hand on the Express. But, they have just 2 wins on the season. In the old format, they would be 12 points behind Cowichan Valley for the final playoff spot in the Island division.
Does Express head coach Dave Mclellan like the change in the playoff format?
Realistically speaking, does anyone think the Dogs will go on a run, surpass Surrey and catch Burnaby or Cowichan Valley or whoever falls to the 6th seed and grab a playoff spot? I don't think so.
Here's my issue with the change. It doesn't seem right for a league to change the playoff format midseason. Sports is about putting a competitive product on the field game after game. It is the responsibility of the clubs themselves to find the talent, and the coaches to put the players in a position to succeed. Should the teams that have built teams that will make the playoffs possibly be punished by the new system just to keep the weaker links in the hunt longer?
I don't think so. It's not Burnaby, Cowichan Valley or Langley's fault that Alberni Valley and Surrey have gotten off to slow starts.
Now if either, Surrey or Alberni Valley catch a team ahead of them and make the playoffs, then the team that misses is responsible for the failure.
Another reason why the change isn't necessary is because with the divisional format this season, each team in the division faces each other 12 times in the 60 game schedule. That's 12 four point games and a possible 60 point swing in the standings.
Surrey has taken advantage of the system by taking the last 2 meetings of the season with the Express. They have closed the gap between the two teams to just four points.
Thus far this season, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs are 1-2 this season vs. the Cowichan Valley Capitals who are the 3rd place team in the Island division. The Dogs are 12 points back right now with 9 head to head matchups remaining. There's 18 points up for grabs between the two teams in the head to head series. If Alberni Valley picks up 7 wins in those remaining 9 games, all of a sudden we have a race. Thus the change in the format isn't necessary.
At the end of the day, if the Dogs can't find a way to close the gap and end up missing the playoffs. That falls on the responsibility of the Alberni Valley Hockey Operations department.
Now, if Surrey surpasses Burnaby and knocks the Express out of the playoffs, my hat is off to Shane Kuss, his staff and players. Burnaby would have to bare the responsibility should they get knocked out.
If the league feels the system they went into the season with isn't working, then it should re-assess it in the upcoming off-season meetings and make any changes at the BCHL annual meetings.
In my opinion, this won't make for a more competitive race. If Surrey keeps on winning and if the Express continue to struggle. The teams on the ice will keep the fans on the edge of their seat as the season goes along
Gary Bettman would be proud of the way the BCHL is creating a false hope of parity.