The Evolution of a Playoff Bracket

As I alluded to in my last post, for the last several years I’ve been using hockey as a vehicle to develop my skills with Photoshop.  Every year I create a playoff bracket to show the journey to the Stanley Cup in a somewhat artistic manner.  I first came up with the idea in 2006, using team logos from Yahoo! Sports arranged in a simple tournament tree.  Click all images to embiggen!



For some reason I thought it would be best to just write in the winner on the line at the top of the Cup.  Probably a carry-over from the old old Excel based brackets I used to make in the late 90s.  Look at that nice beveled text and those lens-flared conference logos.  Yikes, I’ve come a long way.  Starting with this drastic step:


2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs

In 2007, I went in an entirely new direction, using a purple (WHY!?) background with a transparent Stanley Cup photo and new team logo blocks that I created myself in Paint Shop Pro 7 (using a transparent checkerboard dither to sort of mimic the style of the Yahoo! images).  Gotta love the star-burst and my font choices.  These next few are dimensionally twice the size of the first one, hence the need for homemade logo blocks.  I also gave each team 7 tallies to show which games they won, instead of 4 showing only the series count.

(Aside: As is shown in both of these first two brackets, the Sabres reached the Conference Finals in two consecutive years.  This was likely the primary driving force behind my resurgence into hockey fandom.)


2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Nothing new here, except the font of the year.  I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to change that up instead of being consistent.  A few comments on this one though: the Penguins logo looks horrendous with a gold background (which is how it still is on Yahoo!) and the Capitals definitely don’t belong in blue.


2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Holy new logos Batman!  The style of these was shamelessly lifted from, finally breaking the streak of using Yahoo! as a guide.  The glossy clean look is, in my opinion, a vast improvement over the grungy dark look of the previous logos.  I fixed Washington to be red, but Pittsburgh still looks dumb.  Oh hey, what are the Blue Jackets doing there?


2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Looks like I lost the star-burst style for the first three.  That might have strangely been the final straw for PSP7 actually.  While I believe there are noticeable improvements compared to 2007, I knew I could still do a much better job.  Enter 2011, where I was just about done with college and had some free time to burn:


2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Having become more and more used to Photoshop, I began to execute an idea I had had for some time: creating a Photoshop template for the playoff bracket using hidden layers for all situations and simply turning on those which were to be used. (ie, e.g. the 1 seed in the west, shown by the Canucks logo in the upper left, has 14 other invisible logo layers on top of it for the rest of the western teams.)  I created this new bracket entirely from scratch, once again doubling the image size and using newer larger logos and fonts.  The normal game-win tallies are now joined by red ones, signifying an overtime win.  The seeding numbers also carried over into later rounds, as they really should have from the start.  In addition, the west and east were reversed to align better with geography.  Finally, in creating new team logo blocks, I used a new Photoshop template for ease of creation, and I used background colors and logos corresponding to the home jerseys for each team.  Those featured here are the basis for my latest iteration, seen in my previous post.

There’s something else though.  In 2010, living in an apartment off-campus, I bought my own printer.  Printer ink is rare and expensive and all of that purple ink sure would have drained my reservoirs.  So, with my bracket now divided into easily separateable layers, I flipped the background and text from black to white and white to black, respectively.  Hooray ink savings!  Because I feel the need to print out a copy for every round and pen in the tallies as the games go on.  I’m awesome.

2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The lens-flare doesn’t show up nearly as well in the white one though.  Win and lose, I guess.  Hey look, we’re almost to 2013!  But first…


2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

A few new things!  An icy background!  Eliminated teams are now faded. (*sad trombone*)  Thanks to /r/hockey for the inspiration for that one.  For 2012 the text was simplified and modernized, as well as nestled in near the tallies rather than on the outside of each round.  That dark one sure is a lot darker now.  Also the file size is just huge now, since the backgrounds aren’t just a straight single color.

And that brings us to this year.  I went a little crazy, making gradual changes all season long.  This is what I’ve finished with:


2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs

No more crappy looking Stanley Cup!  Less text!  More actual logos!  The dark bracket is gone, because white is just better and it was annoying having to update two brackets at once!  This one has a more detailed background that reflects a playing surface, complete with center ice logos and lines!  Less obviously, I flipped the seeding numbers and tallies for each matchup so that the series can be more easily viewed and compared.  The fonts are all taken from Google Fonts, which I’ve been in love with lately.  I haven’t been able to find the font the NHL uses for the year in their Playoff graphics, so I used a wide blocky one in its stead.  The logo blocks are those I used in my playoff preview post, though with some added layer styles in this context.  I updated those with some jersey-like texture in the background and some other subtle effects and I think they look fantastic.  Oh hey, is that the President’s Trophy up there?  I felt it necessary to show that too.  Not sure what to do with the conference logos, but I’ll think of something else.  They’re just kind of awkwardly shaped and there’s a lot of space around them.

I’ll put up the completed 2013 bracket once the Playoffs are over.  There’s a lot more to this than you can see this early.  In fact, I’ll probably just post one after every round along with a recap/preview post.

I have no doubt next year’s homemade bracket will be different, since I can’t seem to settle on a concept, though I feel like I’ve got a really good one here.  Realignment brings a new playoff format as well, however most of those changes happen in the framework of the Photoshop file and are barely reflected in the visible product.  Other than that, who knows what will inspire me next?

I hope you enjoyed this snapshot as much as I did.  I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last seven (!) years and I’m excited to see what cool stuff I learn to do for next year.

Subsequent Edits:

Check out how the bracket has changed since this post was published.  The change details are enumerated in the playoff series posts each year:

2013, Final Version

Playoffs 2013


Playoffs 2014



Playoffs 2016



Additional stick-tap to Icethetics for constant inspiration.


One thought on “The Evolution of a Playoff Bracket”

  1. Just a slight extra white space between each of the first-round pairings (or less space between the teams in each pairing) would go a long way to alleviating my confusion as to who is playing whom (i.e., “Why is #8 playing #2?”). The PSD file must be freakin’ huge! What do you have about 900 layers to be able to display every team in every position? [Don’t approve this for public display.]

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