The Canada West men's hockey playoff format was revamped at the Canada West annual general meeting in Winnipeg this past week. Instead of six of the conference's seven teams making the playoffs, now only the top four will qualify for the postseason. It's far from a subtle change and is something that undoubtedly add more importance to the regular season.
Under the previous system when all but one team made the conference playoffs, it was more of a feat to not make the playoffs than to make them. In many ways teams had to play their way out of the playoffs rather than play their way in - and that's not the way it should be. The move to shrink the playoff pool is a good move as it makes the regular season more critical, and the playoffs truly a showcase for the best of the best in the conference. In a conference with only seven teams having four playoff spots is the best option. Lower seeds have been able to hang with the top teams in the playoffs, as illustrated by the #6 seeded Regina Cougars who beat the #3 seed Manitoba Bisons in the opening round and then pushed Alberta to three games in the conference semifinals, but the regular season needs to hold more importance and the playoff format change is the only way to do that.
The new system is simple - four teams, two semifinal series and a championship final. It will avoid the lengthy layoffs that teams have seen in the past with the top two teams clinching byes in the first round of the playoffs under the old six team format. Those layoffs in many cases have hindered teams more than helped them - as seen this playoff season when both Alberta and Saskatchewan struggled to get their powerplays in sync after their first round byes coupled with players heading off to China for the FISU games.
Maybe if the conference can get back to eight teams having a six team playoff would make sense, but with any expansion in men's hockey a far ways off, moving to a four team playoff is the best thing for the league. The old playoff format which saw every team but one make the playoffs de-valued the regular season to an extent, and with only four teams gaining playoff berths now the regular season should take on added importance in the Canada West.