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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says tweaking playoff format not as simple as it sounds

SUNRISE, Fla. — Sidney Crosby wants the NHL to tweak its playoff format. Gary Bettman says the task isn't as simple as it sounds.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks before the NHL All-Star hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lynne Sladky

SUNRISE, Fla. — Sidney Crosby wants the NHL to tweak its playoff format.

Gary Bettman says the task isn't as simple as it sounds.

The league's commissioner was asked about comments from players during this week's all-star festivities where some stated — including Crosby — they would like to see a return to the No. 1 versus No. 8 system instead of the current division-based, wild-card format.

"I like one to eight," Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, said Friday in reference to a conference's first-place team playing the lowest seed. 

"The regular season, as difficult as it is, teams should be rewarded. And I guess that's probably the best way that you should be rewarded. 

"I like that version a little bit better."

At his annual all-star press conference Saturday afternoon, Bettman pointed out any changes are easier said than done.

"You've got to also look at changing the wild-card," he said. "You've got to start looking at the matchups in terms of how many times everybody's playing everybody else if you're having conference-based playoffs. 

"It involves a whole host of other issues that have to be addressed."

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said two-thirds of general managers were fine with the current format when polled two years ago.

"We do value the input from the players," Bettman added. "It's something we get through the competition committee and it's something that we get on an informal basis when players come to New York. 

"They come and visit Bill and me, and we close the door and we'll have an off-the-record conversation to see what's on their mind. We're very grateful for the input that we get."

Dallas Stars head coach Peter DeBoer, who led the Central Division in this year's all-star tournament, said the men behind the bench have their own views.

It's similar to Crosby's take.

"I know the league's thoughts on it, so I don't want to stand on a soapbox," he said Friday. "From a coaching perspective, you'd always love (No. 1 versus No. 16). From a competitive point of view standing behind that bench, you feel like you've earned the right to play the 16th-place team if you're the first-place team.

"That's just real."


The commissioner was asked about Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov declining to take part in warmups before a game last month because of the team's Pride-theme jerseys, saying it was against his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs to support an LGBTQ initiative.

The New York Rangers then backtracked on their plan to wear Pride-themed jerseys during warmups before a recent game.

"You know what our goal, our values and our intentions are across the league," Bettman said. "But we also have to respect some individual choice, and some people are more comfortable embracing themselves in causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences."

Bettman pushed backed when asked if recent developments suggest the league is accepting of bigotry.

"Not at all," he said. "You're taking the bridge too far. Whether or not you choose to embrace and make a statement on behalf of a cause affirmatively, if you choose not to do that doesn't necessarily make you a bigot. 

"We're trying to be open, welcoming, and inclusive. Within (the) parameters, being welcoming and diverse and inclusive, requires a line which gets drawn in each case, that you're tolerant to a point of various views."


Bettman said "15 or more" people or groups have shown interest in buying the Ottawa Senators.

"My guess is at some point in the next few weeks or so there'll be a preliminary cut," he said.

Bettman also reiterated the team will be staying in the nation's capital.


Bettman and Daly said they met with International Ice Hockey Federation president Luc Tardif this week in South Florida, and spoke about the 2026 Olympics and the reimagined World Cup of Hockey.

The NHL skipped the 2018 Olympics before participation at the 2022 Games was quashed by COVID-19. It was hoped the World Cup would be held in 2024, but a variety of factors — including Russia's war in Ukraine — pushed the event until at least 2025.

Tardif said at the recent world junior hockey championship he wants an answer from the NHL on the 2026 Olympics by the spring of 2024. He added at the time of the IIHF: "We are not a travel agency. We organize a competition."

"We each re-expressed our desires to work together on a variety of fronts," Bettman said of his meeting with Tardif. "It's important to the players and they'd like to play in the Olympics, but certain things are going to have to be done by some combination of the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the local organizing committee in order for that to be reality. 

"If they do those things, which is not a whole lot dissimilar to what's been done in the past, then we'll be happy to go."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.


Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press