For any player or fan, the ultimate goal is to have your team be successful in the playoffs. In baseball, football, basketball and hockey, teams work hard during the regular season to put themselves in the best position possible to win that tournament. Now why a tournament is more important than the regular season is a topic for another day. But since the playoffs are the pot at the end of the rainbow, you think the powers that be would ensure it is run fairly. Therefore it’s hard to believe that since 2014 the NHL would create and allow such an unfair system to determine playoff matches.
Throw away those razors, hockey fans. It's playoff time. pic.twitter.com/vmWbgITUfE
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 11, 2016
For those that may not be familiar, here is a quick recap of what it looks like. Eight teams from each conference make the playoffs. The first, second, and third place teams in each of the two divisions per conference qualify for the playoffs automatically. The next two teams with the most points, regardless of division make the eight teams in total. These teams are referred to as the Wild Cards. The winner in each division faces a Wild Card team and the second place in each division versus the third place team.
The problem with this type of format is that it puts more emphasis on divisional status rather than conference status. In essence, a team that fights hard during the regular season is punished if their division is stronger than another’s. Case in point – the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues have had a very good year as they finished second in the Western Conference with 107 points. In a ‘conference’ weighted format, they would play the team that finished seventh, which in this case would be the Nashville Predators. Instead, because the top team in the West is also in the Central Division, this means St. Louis has to face the third place team in its division which just happens to be also the third place team in the conference and the current Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. How fair is that?
It is a little difficult to follow so here’s the bottom line. You now have two of the top three teams facing each other in the first round of the playoffs and that can’t be right under any circumstances. This also means that other teams with an inferior record get rewarded. The fourth place Anaheim Ducks (by the way what an incredible comeback by the Ducks this season after that horrendous start) play the seventh place Nashville Predators and the fifth place Los Angeles Kings play the sixth place San Jose Sharks.
It doesn’t fare much better in the Eastern Conference either as the best team in the league, the Washington Capitals, should be facing the 8th seeded Detroit Red Wings, but instead face off against the seven seed Philadelphia Flyers. While the sixth place Tampa Bay Lightning play the Red Wings. Throw in the second place Pittsburgh Penguins playing the fourth place New York Rangers and one has to wonder what is the possible logic in any of this?
Many might believe it is naïve to think that there is one format this is fair for every team, everywhere but surely there is something available that is better than this. Whether that means a different realignment, following what the NBA does or even changing it back to the way it was is better than this. Something has to be done to reward teams that succeed during the regular season.
Speaking of rewarding and fairness, maybe there is an interesting way to resolve this. The Washington Capitals and the Dallas Stars each finished first in their conference. Rather than automatically have them play the wild card or the 8th seed, why not just give them the choice? They can pick any of the other top seven teams in their conference. Once they select their opponents, then second seeds (Pittsburgh and St. Louis) pick their opponent from the remaining teams in their conference, and so on.
This will come in handy for a team that doesn’t like a particular matchup. The best example would be the old Boston Bruins. From 1946-1987 the Bruins lost 18 straight playoff series against their most hated rivals, the Montreal Canadians. Even if Montreal squeaked into the playoffs as the 8th seed, I am sure the Bruins would have picked any other team had they been given the opportunity.
General Managers would make that decision and it would be a fantastic topic of discussion for media and fans before, during and after each series. GMs may even get hired or fired now depending on how well they can pick a playoff opponent. The league can even setup another money-making event like draft day with all GMs present to make their choices known.
— VICE Sports (@VICESports) July 24, 2015
“I, Lou Lamoriello on behalf of the Toronto Maple Leafs select the Montreal Canadians as our opponent for the first round of the 2018 Playoffs.” Then the Montreal GM Marc Bergevin would walk up on stage, they would have a firm handshake and then pose like MMA fighters would.
Now that would be fair and cool.
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