Sadly, 2020’s edition never got started because of the coronavirus pandemic and weeks on from when it would have taken place, we’re still mostly stuck at home, social distancing, depending on which government you listen to.
All the extra time at home has allowed many of us to do the jobs we’ve put off for long enough and even think about the things to more detail than we would normally.
Which leads me to the play-offs and how we can perhaps improve the format for a competition, while loved by players, fans and everyone involved, is universally thought of as ‘too short.’
How often have we got to the end of the play-off final and the realisation dawns that not only is it all over, the season is finished as well and the long, dark summer months are upon us?
It seems to be a very quick couple of weekends and just as we’re building ourselves up for the excitement of it all, it’s done.
So how do can we make the play-offs a longer and perhaps more exciting competition? I have a couple of ideas on this.
THE EXTRA WEEKEND
With a league of 10 teams and eight going through in the current format, how do you eke out an extra weekend of action? We’ve pitched this before, but the premise is a simple one.
All 10 teams are in the play-offs.
The premise to this is a simple one. The teams who finish in the top six all qualify for the play-off quarter finals and as a result, get themselves a weekend off.
The teams in the bottom four all play in a preliminary round in the weekend between the final games of the regular season and the start of the quarter finals.
A two-legged affair between seventh and tenth and eighth and ninth, with the two winners booking their place in the final eight.
Germany and many other European nations use this format so that even those on the fringes get one more chance to try and make it into the final competition.
Plus there’s the potential to show these games on television as well, which would create a lot of interest outwith the teams involved.
RETURN OF GROUPS
They did it back in the early days of the Elite League and in this format, again, every team all get some level of play-off action.
Given the Challenge Cup is not a tournament that’s universally loved, this new, extended play-off format could be a good replacement for it.
A group stage would allow play-off opportunities for all teams, either in two groups of five, decided by final regular season rankings, with even number placed teams in one group and odds in the other.
They play each other home and away and the top two from each group reach the finals weekend. What will be missing is the drama of the quarter finals, but give more games to the overall competition.
If there’s an insistence of having the Challenge Cup remain, the groups could double up with the top teams in each group playing each other in the final. It might be an unpopular one, but it is doing something a little different.
Another option is a separate group with ten teams playing each other twice, once each home and away, for 18 games and the top four qualifying for the final four weekend.
Or, you could include the quarter final with the top eight, but the essence of the large group is it’s all about the play-offs.
It would mean perhaps reducing the regular season, but you would still have played enough games to determine the top team and place more focus on the play-offs.
I know players who would love to make the play-offs the main event, as opposed to the regular season and this would certainly be a way of trying to achieve that.
The other alternative is to keep it the way it is of course and we’ve seen some cracking ties at that stage over the year.
The point is, there is scope to change and do something with a tournament that delivers so much, but it’s over too quickly.
Really making the most of the play-offs should be something to think about going forward and turn a bolted on aspect to the end of the season into a real festival.