VIP Insider Post #92: Is Hockey East Making a Mistake with Playoff Change?


Exclusively for our VIP supporters, TMR editor Mike McMahon brings you these “insider” posts, where he’ll discuss the news and give some insight and perspective on the stories we’re covering here at The Mack Report as well other insider info from stories around the country …

— I’ll say this … on the whole, I like the idea of the regular season carrying some meaning in Hockey East, so I don’t think that league voting this week to move back to the eight-team playoff format is necessarily a bad choice. However, I’m a little disappointed that some of the league’s non-traditional top-four teams won’t get the chance to bring some excitement to their campus.

I’ll admit I come at this from a unique perspective. In most arenas, during Hockey East playoffs, the crowds are sparse and lifeless because students are often away for spring break. But I’ve seen, first-hand, what home playoff games has done for a program like Merrimack. It gave the entire campus a reason to be excited. The same thing happened this past year at UMass.

By eliminating three teams and going back to the old format, Hockey East is eliminating that possibility. Getting people excited about their programs helps grow the game, and now that opportunity is gone.

Also, I’m surprised the ADs voted for this move given the financial ramifications. I’m told that Hockey East operated at a deficit this past season. There was no “big event” like Frozen Fenway to bring in extra revenue. Playoff games act as guaranteed money for the league. In the first round, teams owe the league $20,000 for Game 1 and Game 2 and $15,000 for Game 3. If all three series were sweeps, that’s $120,000 in guaranteed revenue that is now gone.

My guess is that something will have to be done with the financial structure of the league in order to make up for that lost revenue.

So while I don’t necessarily disagree with the move — again, I like the regular season carrying more meaning — I just don’t understand why the athletic directors felt that now was the right time to make this move. The benefits of what it eliminates, to me, are too great (namely the extra revenue and the buzz that it can create on some campuses). It’s not going to create a buzz on every campus, but it’s not like the first round of the playoffs was costing anyone big dollars, anyway. The elimination of that round will have to result in added revenue to the league in some way, whether it’s through membership fees or other associated costs. No matter what, if the decision was financial (the teams aren’t making enough at the gate to pay the $20,000 guarantee per game), I think that’s shortsighted. The programs are going to end up paying that money to the league in other ways. The league, operating so close to a break-even point (and losing money last year) can’t afford to have $120,000 in revenue streams just chopped off the bottom line without it being replaced somewhere else.

I believe that there is a value in being able to tell your campus, “we have a home playoff game this weekend.” For that to happen now, a team needs to finish in the top-four. For a team like Merrimack, or UMass, where the first round has been a big benefit, that’s not going to happen often. Merrimack finished in the top-four twice, and technically, it was only once. Merrimack hosted a playoff series in 1995 against Boston College but it was only because Maine was disqualified from postseason competition; the Warriors had actually finished fifth.

About Mike McMahon

Mike McMahon is in his 13th year covering Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike also serves on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN

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