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PWHL announces ground-breaking playoff format, draft rules

Both postseason rounds will be contested as best-of-five series.

Marie-Philip Poulin, PWHL Montreal (Image: PWHL)

The Professional Women’s Hockey League will take an innovative approach to its maiden postseason, with the debutant league unveiling its playoff structure and draft rules on Wednesday [28 February].

The PWHL’s top four teams will qualify for the playoffs, which are slated for early May, with the top seed handed the chance to select its semi-final opponent.

Both postseason rounds will be contested as best-of-five series.

The PWHL has also adopted the so-called ‘Gold Plan’ for determining the order of its entry draft, with the system designed to “reward team success upon elimination from playoff contention.”

Teams will accrue “draft order points” once they have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, with the first overall pick handed to the organisation that finishes the season with the most order points.

The PWHL’s second non-playoff team will select second overall, while playoff squads will select three through six “based on the inverse order of the regular-season standings.” In other words, the regular-season champions will pick last.

Analysis: PWHL continues on its trailblazing path with playoff, draft rules

The Professional Women’s Hockey League isn’t even a year old yet and its bosses have already underscored their commitment to shaking new life into the sport.

The PWHL adopted a pair of alternative rules on day-one, using the 3-2-1 points system – where a regulation win is worth three points, an overtime or shootout win yields a two-point haul, and an overtime or shootout loss is worth one point – and the ‘jailbreak rule’ – which curtails a powerplay if the shorthanded team scores.

The PWHL’s latest twists are equally as exciting and innovative.

Natalie Spooner, PWHL Toronto (Image: PWHL)

Playoff Format & Draft Rules: Natalie Spooner, PWHL Toronto (Image: PWHL)

“We were very specific around trying to open our minds to areas of the game that we could do differently, that might create more fan engagement, that might create a better product, whatever that may be,” Jayna Hefford, the PWHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations, told The Athletic.

“It was something that we have always talked about, especially I think, on the hockey ops side, is how do we reinvent the game without changing the game. If we make a rule change and it doesn’t work out, then we can go back to where it existed. But we certainly didn’t want to be in a position where we were afraid to try something.”

The Gold Plan has been around for more than a decade and was initially floated by a student, but has since received support from Arizona Coyotes general manager Shane Doan, dozens of journalists, notably Sean McIndoe, and many hockey fans.

Supporters claim the system would disincentivize tanking and force non-playoff teams to battle for every point down the stretch. This would lead to more interesting hockey across the board, with fans cheering for their teams to win – as opposed to the current situation in the National Hockey League, where supporters of bottom-feeding teams take solace from losses as every defeat moves their club closer to the top of the draft order.

With only six teams participating in the PWHL’s inaugural season, the impact of the Gold Plan will be minimal. But the merits of this system will boom in time when more teams are added to the mix.

Allowing the regular-season champions to select their semi-final playoff opponent is also a spicy situation.

Nice work, PWHL.

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