To be completely transparent, I started to write this article as a way to protest the current playoff format. I still plan on doing just that. However, what I found when I dove deeper into the standings for each conference was pretty surprising to me. I expected a few first round matches to not change, but I never would have guessed every first round match-up remained the same in one of the conferences. It is also important to note that in the re-seeding of teams, I took out the wild card spots and simply ranked them from 1st-8th, based off regular season point totals with no regard for the division each team plays in.
Before I add anymore commentary or opinions, I present you with the final conference standings for both the Western and Eastern conferences. I also included their current seed in the present playoff format to help compare the two formats.
1 .) Calgary Flames. 107 pts. Current seed: 1st Pacific
2.) San Jose Sharks. 101 pts. Current seed: 2nd Pacific
3.) Nashville Predators. 100 pts. Current seed: 1st Central
4.) Winnipeg Jets. 99 pts. Current seed: 2nd Central
5.) St. Louis Blues. 99 pts. Current seed: 3rd Central
6.) Dallas Stars. 93 pts Current seed: 1st Wild Card
7.) Vegas Golden Knights. 93 pts. Current seed: 3rd Pacific
8.) Colorado Avalanche. 90 pts. Current seed: 2nd Wild Card
1.) Tampa Bay Lightning. 128 pts. Current seed: 1st Atlantic
2.) Boston Bruins. 107 pts. Current seed: 2nd Atlantic
3.) Washington Capitals. 104 pts. Current seed: 1st Metropolitan
4.) New York Islanders. 103 pts. Current seed: 2nd Metropolitan
5.) Toronto Maple Leafs. 100 pts. Current seed: 3rd Atlantic
6.) Pittsburgh Penguins 100 pts. Current seed: 3rd Metropolitan
7.) Carolina Hurricanes. 99 pts. Current seed: 1st Wild Card
8.) Columbus Blue Jackets. 98 pts. Current seed: 2nd Wild Card
Now if you haven’t noticed already, the Western Conference first round is the exact same. Every team, in the West, that plays with home ice in real life, plays with home ice in the new bracket. The Eastern Conference is an entirely different story. The teams with home ice, remained the same. Furthermore, the only match-up that does not change is the 1/8 series between Tampa Bay and Columbus. As it stands right now in the real world, the new 2/5 seeds and the 4/6 seeds are playing. The only team the actual playoff format is helping in the East is your new 3 seed, the Washington Capitals, who play the new 7 seed, the Carolina Hurricanes. Outside of the first round being turned on its head in the East, the second round is what really sets this seeding format apart as a better system, for all teams involved.
One of the biggest things I took away from my research was how the seeding format changed the later round play, even if the new seeding kept the majority of first round match-ups the same. As a reminder, to make things easier to digest and comprehend, the remainder of the article we will assume the higher seeded team wins each series, and the seeds will be based on the straight 1st-8th model. This means instead of two teams who finished first in their respective divisions matching up in each conference final, you will see the 1st place and 2nd place teams face off.
In the real life format, the top two teams in BOTH conferences are slated to meet in the second round because they are in the same division. The top seed in the West is Calgary, followed by San Jose. Both of these teams are from the Pacific Division so it poses a much harder task of getting to the conference finals, as well as the Stanley Cup Finals. The East is faced with the same problem. Tampa Bay is the top team, with Boston coming in second. Both teams play in the Atlantic Division and have already played each other around five times. So why is Tampa Bay rewarded, after a President’s Cup season, with the potential of playing the second best team in their conference, in the second round? Boston tied Calgary with 107 points this season. I don’t think it’s fair to them either. The reason Vegas made their run last year had two main factors: 1.) They were GIFTED an amazing team(we can talk about that when Seattle gets ready for their expansion draft). 2.) The top two teams in the West last year went toe-to-toe in an all out death match in the second round. Vegas got to play, what was more or less, the shell of the winner. Of course they are going to win that series.
This terrible playoff format is something the Predators struggled with last year with Winnipeg. They were on top of the entire league. And who was their second round match-up? The number two team in the league. I’m sensing a pattern, is anyone else? With this happening year after year in both conferences, it’s officially a huge flaw with the actual seeding system that we currently have. I try to understand why they would implement a new system to make it more interesting to watch and to follow. But at this point aren’t you hindering the game and the chance of a true champion being crowned?
Finally to expand on the 1st and 2nd teams coming from the same division, that leaves the 3rd and 4th teams from the other division. Last year it was Vegas that profited from this monstrosity. This year it(remember we are going completely chalk when talking about later rounds) should come down to Nashville and Winnipeg in the West and Washington and the New York Islanders. And if the same pattern from last year holds, where after the 1’s and 2’s beat up on each other, the 3’s will prevail in the conference finals(this is the only time I will stray from chalk, just hang with me for a minute). So if that long scenario holds true, we will be blessed with a Nashville vs Washington series(not that it matters but Nashville would have home ice, and the team with home ice wins over 70% of the time). Outside of all of these hypothetical situations, one could argue that there is an advantage for the 3rd and 4th place teams on their side of the bracket, than the higher, 1st and 2nd seeded teams, that are all on the other side of the conference.
So why has the NHL not commented or even changed the playoff format? Will they ever change it? Personally, as a fan, I’m done with this “trying to be different” format. Even if it can help my team this year or in the future, I’d rather just have a normal playoff. There is a saying that everyone, to my knowledge, is familiar with. I feel like the NHL failed to take this specific phrase into consideration before forcing something we do not want, nor do we need for that matter. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But yet here we are…