I asked CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis if he was surprised at all the criticism of the playoff format, and he said:
``I'm a little surprised. I know there's always going to be criticism, and I don't think that's unusual. The decision met with almost unanimous approval from the league owners and the players through the PHPA. There wasn't much hesitation because it was received so well by every party we deal with.
``To me, I don't understand why this is a big deal when you look around and see other leagues that use similar playoff formats. The ECHL had eight of nine in the Western Conference make the playoffs for many years and last year seven of eight. In juniors, the OHL has 16 of 20, QMJHL has 16 of 18, the WCHA had 12 of 12 at one point and now eight of 10. I don't know if they took some flack.''
Is he worried about watering down the regular season?
``The players know there are only 37 AA teams in the country, and these guys are playing for their futures every night. They are fighting for salaries and jobs. I know people say it's going to take away from the regular season, but I can't imagine a guy is going to take a night off when there are so many players looking for work. They are also professionals and want to win every night.''
He said he thinks one reason players will like the format bis ecause more of them get paid longer. He said the other option was to go with 12 teams, but then you have an uneven format and somebody has to sit out for a week or so with a bye which doesn't do anyone any good.
``Whatever decision you make, you knew you were going to get hammered. There would be naysayers saying, `You went with 12, why didn't you go with 16?' ''
Why go with 66 games? IHL wanted more, CHL had played 64 for years and Christmas falls on a weekend this year. They are trying to cut back on four-in-five nights as much as possible, in part because of the travel. They also want to finish the season by the end of March so they get into the playoffs before building availability becomes scarce, such as happened here last year with graduations.
There will be an all-star game announced soon for next season, and they have discussed an IHL vs. CHL format.
``Could it happen this year? There are certainly things we're talking about internally that could be considered.''
Negotiations are ongoing with the PHPA. still working on the schedule.