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NHL commissioner talks up new playoff format
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Though it might take a fair amount of effort to explain (see story), the NHL’s new playoff structure is working, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

And the Flyers’ first-round series against the New York Rangers is proof of that fact.

“We wanted to emphasize geographic rivalries, both in the regular-season schedule and the playoffs,” Bettman said ahead of the Flyers’ Game 3 loss to the Rangers. “And if you look at the matchups, whether it’s Rangers-Flyers or Bruins-Detroit, this is pretty good stuff.”

Bettman called returns on NHL realignment and the new-look playoffs “terrific.” Change can be difficult, but the commissioner said the response from teams, fans and players has been largely positive.

“The early returns, in terms of attendance, all the buildings are sold out,” he said. “National TV ratings and I believe local TV ratings are up. And that means we set out to do something that our fans would like, and the early returns are, it’s working the way we would have hoped.”

The new playoff format came as a result of league realignment last offseason, which moved teams around and created two new divisions in each conference. Most of the effects of the change – that teams now visit every arena, that more teams play others in their own time zone – are positive for all involved. But one side effect of the shuffle is that there’s now 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference.

Technically, doesn’t that make it harder to get into the playoffs in the East? Should teams be concerned?

“Unless you’re really hung up on symmetry, I don’t think that it makes that much of a difference,” Bettman said. “It’s really the teams in the middle of the pack that are competing for the playoff spots. When you get down to the bottom, whether or not there’s an extra team or two, I don’t think that really affects it, because everybody’s roughly playing the same type of schedule.”

Bettman said he hasn’t received any complaints from team owners in the East.