Hockey: OUA expands playoffs to 16 teams, ditches first-round byes

Ottawa Gee-Gees coach Dave Leger was kind enough to explain the tweaks to the OUA men's hockey league, both the schedule and playoff format.

The OUA has expanded the playoffs from 12 to 16 teams and eliminated the first-round playoff bye, in the wake of a post-season where none of four playoff seeds made it to the Queen's Cup. (Trois-Rivières was the only one to win a playoff round, and it needed two overtimes in the decider.) The trade-off is 16 of 19 teams will make the playoffs — 8-of-10 in the East, which adds the expansion Nipissing Lakers, 8-of-9 in the West.

It seems much tidier just to revise the post from earlier.
  • The playoffs will be a true 1-through-8, meaning an end to barely .500 teams earning the No. 2 seed and getting a first-round bye. Last season's No. 2 seeds, Toronto in the East and York in the West, had the fourth- and fifth-best records in their conferences.

    "The main feature is having two more playoff teams on each side," Leger said. "We'll still have the four divisions, but the only purpose for those delineations is to help sort out the cross-over scheduling."

    In effect, it will be a two-division conference. It would be similar to the early 1980s, when the NHL had a 1-through-16 playoff format. The divisions were still there, but for playoff purposes, they weren't there.

  • There is more of an emphasis on conference play. Cross-over scheduling will be set up to "achieve balance over a period of time." It will take 3-4 years for everyone to play everyone, but the intention is to address concerns that certain teams played the Lakeheads of the world more often than some of their rivals.

    "There was a real appetite from the coaches to have a cross-over," Leger says. "There was talk about having all East teams play all West teams, but some of the coaches and athletic directors weren't too happy. However, there was a lot of interest to have a cross-over, and thankfully we're going to have one.

    "Having a strong team like a Waterloo or a Western is good for our team and good for our school."

  • It seems like cross-over play, based on two teams' schedules which were posted online, will all take place before Jan. 1. That means teams will be going head-to-head during the closing sprint that begins on the first weekend of January, which is a positive development.

    Last season, Ottawa was dealing with an injury bug when it went just 1-2-1 during a four-game swing vs. Mid West teams, which made it harder for hold off Queen's for the final playoff spot.

  • The schedule is sticking at 28 games. Lakehead and Queen's each posted schedules that had 30 conference games, but the schedule increase didn't get approval.
As a personal opinion, the net gain seems to be increasing the integrity of the post-season, since the team with the second-best record actually won't be starting a second-round series on the road. As noted in the comments, perhaps the higher seed for the 1 vs. 8 and 2 vs. 7 series could get all three games at home. Two divisions also makes sense; most leagues have gone too far subdividing themselves (like the NFL with eight groups of four).

There likely will be some sniping about increasing the size of the playoff tournament, especially after Canada West reduced its from six teams to four. However, the OUA is essentially pursing the same objective, getting rid of byes in the post-season that can leave a team sitting around and doing special teams drills for a week.

Meantime, Leger did pass along some recruiting news with a Kingston angle. Stay-at-home defenceman Tyler Hill, who captained the Kingston Kimco Voyageurs team which won the Central Canadian title, is joining the Gee-Gees.

(Thanks to Todd Mathers for the tip about the expanded playoffs. He's also got a good suggestion about possibly having fewer teams in the post-season and playing best-of-5 series.)

New format for OUA (tbnewswatch, June 9)
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  1. I was in contact with the oua and they are staying with the 4 divisions.The 2 division as shown on there site if for seeding.As for the play off top 8 out of each conference play a best of 3.

  2. "16 of 19 teams will make the playoffs"

    Sigh. Okay, so...RMC, Nipissing, and UOIT?

    That's a real worthwhile system the OUA's going with, isn't it? Meaningless exhibition games from October to February.

  3. The big matzo ball hanging out there from the coaches' perspective was that they didn't like the bye in the first round. You're still battling to get home ice (although perhaps the 1 and 2 seeds could get all 3 games on home ice, just to better reward them and punish the 7-8 seeds). So it's not totally meaningless.

    It's a familiar story in hockey. There's more interest in the post-season, hence more spectators, hence more revenue.

    Perhaps some coaches won't like risking players to injury in that 1 vs. 8 or 2 vs. 7 series. People will always find the flaw in any format.

    In terms of art of the possible, this seems to be an improvement, especially since the second-best team in the conference will actually be seeded as such.

  4. Sixteen teams making the playoffs is ridiculous. I can hear it now...RMC will post a 6 - 22 record, beat McGill twice in overtime in the first round after being outshot 60 - 20 in both games and people will be screaming about how the regular season is meaningless. Eight teams making the playoffs in a 19 team conference is plenty. In fact, why not go with fewer teams in the playoffs and have best of 5's instead of best of 3's?

    UOIT has now posted their sched and it's 28 games

  5. correction...UOIT's (like Lakehead's and Queen's) regular season schedule currently shows 30 this move back to 28 must have just happened, which my be why the OUA has not yet posted the league schedule on its site.

  6. How about 12 teams in the playoffs, with the top 4 seeds getting a 1st round bye and the 5-12 seeds paired off in a best of three opening round, with all games at the higher seed?
    Seems more reasonable than having 16 teams anyway.

  7. Having a 8 team play off format would be more resasonable then 12.

  8. Hockey with less than half the teams making the playoffs?

  9. I think the ideal format would be each division winner plus 2 wild cards from each conference.

  10. You mean 2 divisions or 4 in that scenario? The old format had a problem with some mediocre Mid East and Mid West teams being division champions.

    The genie is out of the bottle. Hockey leagues everywhere seem to want 16 teams in the playoffs.

  11. I mean the 4 division scenario.But your right the probleam is some time there are weak divisions.

  12. Per the OUA's and Lakehead's website, there will be two divisions, not four.

  13. It pretty much is two divisions regardless of how they print the standings, since it's a true 1-8 for playoff seeding.

    I might have not explained it so well ... Leger said the 4 divisions stay just to help with the scheduling rotation, i.e., the Far East plays Far West one season while Mid East plays Mid West, then they flip it the following season (kind of like MLB and NFL do with their scheduling).