The Olympics got me thinking about what elements of that tournament could be adopted by the NHL to capture some of the excitement that it brings.
One element that seems interesting is the fear of sudden death during the single elimination tournament. The Canadian players who had to go through the play in round compared it to having to win four consecutive Game 7's. I don't think it makes much sense to alter the NHL playoff format, but they are right that the sudden death tournament added to the excitement.
So why not scrap the All-Star game in favor of a mid-season single elimination tournament? I don't think this idea has a snowball's chance in hell, but it does make some sense in some ways. Explanation after the jump.
One likely complaint against scrapping the 5 day All-Star break is that for the non-All Star's you are eliminating their midseason break. Once you see my proposal you'll see that most teams are still getting just as long a break as they normally would (in many cases more), except for the final few teams that are playing to the end. That's not much different than what happens now where two full teams worth of players (in this case the league's superstars) are playing hockey over the 5 day break, while the rest of the league probably gets a 2-3 day vacation, once you factor in travel and practice. If the league were to instead feature a 10 day long single elmination tournament, they could still find a little time to give each team some extra days during the course of the season where even this year the Hawks took a 2 week break for the Olympics and still have had some extended breaks during the season. This is very doable.
The other negative issue is the locations/logistics. Especially at the beginning you're going to need someplace or places that can accomodate a large number of hockey games in a short amount of time and you're going to want to host the games someplace where there is enough fan interest to get some bodies in the seats.
So here's my suggestion, the NHL has 30 teams, or two conferences of 15. You give the top seed in each conference a first round bye, so that after the first round you're left with 16 teams (14 winners and 2 bye teams), and then you proceed from there. Let's say you start the tournament on a Friday in February and finish the following Sunday. Here's a sample breakdown:
Friday - Round 1, each conference's teams 2-15 play (14 games total, 14 losing teams get at least a 9 day break)
Sunday - Round 2, features all remaining teams (8 games total, 8 losing teams get at least 7 day break)
Tuesday - Round 3, features Round 2 winners (4 games total, 4 losing teams get at least a 4 day break)
Friday - Final 4 play
Sunday - Championship game
To accomodate for the extra games reduce the number of non-tourney regular season games from 82 to 80. Also, settle all tourney games by the same point awarding rules as any other regular season games. Sure, at the end of the season some teams will have won standings points because they played more games than other teams by winning games in the tourney, but that's the reward for winning in the tourney. By doing it this way the average number of games played for all teams will fall just under 82, which is comparable to what happens now.
Under this scenario, 26 of the 30 NHL teams will get at least a 4 day break, and 22 of those teams will get at least a 7 day break, so the bulk of the NHL players will still get a lot of mid-seaon rest. For the remaining 4 teams that play their way late into the tournament, they will have an opportunity to earn extra standings points that will make a large difference when it comes to trying to qualify for the playoffs and/or trying to earn home ice. And there's an incentive to try and win the tournament games because the reward comes in the form of very valuable standings points.
Also you could probably create some cool trophy with a cool name to award to the tourney winner.
I think that would be a lof of fun, at least as much fun as All Star weekend. You could still name an All Star team (which I thought they should have done this year) without having to play the game, there's no reason not to recognize the players. And I've got to think that this scenario would generate more revenue for the league than the All Star weekend does. You could still entertain all the same sponsors/bigshots that you do at the All Star game as you could at the final four weekend, only these games would matter.
Unfortunately it will never happen because 1) the NHL can't do anything right, 2) purists will whine, and 3) logistically it's hard to pull off. #3 is admittedly difficult. But they figured out a way to play hockey in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, there's got to be a way to figure this out as well. I just wish it wasn't such a pipe dream, this would be a lot of fun.