The truth about the NHL playoff format


Someone finally had the guts to say the truth about the current NHL playoff format. It came from Edmonton coach Todd McLellan. With the Oilers in position to finally make the postseason for the first time in over a decade, he ripped into the divisional format which doesn’t put an emphasis on total points. But rather rewards mediocrity.

Here is a tweet from old friend Rick Carpiniello quoting McLellan on a format that honestly has already become annoying:

McLellan’s point about reseeding after the first round makes too much sense. That’s why it won’t happen. Instead, the NHL is stuck with the silly divisional format which allows for match-ups that shouldn’t happen. Unless you think the Caps and Pens should face each other in the second round again which isn’t good for business, it makes better sense to have them as the top two seeds.

That would mean altering the format and just seeding 1-8 regardless of division winners. At the present, the top four teams in the Metropolitan Division all have more points than current Atlantic leader Montreal. The Canadiens are at 72 while the Sens are two off the pace with 70 followed by the Leafs (67), Panthers (tied with 66) and Bruins.

If the playoffs started today, the Rangers would remain in the first wildcard and draw the Habs while the Islanders would be locked into the second wildcard and draw Washington due to more ROW than the Panthers and one fewer game played than Boston. The Rangers enter tonight’s match in Toronto fourth in the Metro with 78 points in 59 games with 36 ROW. They trail the Blue Jackets by a point for third. With five points separating first place Washington from second place Pittsbugh, who is so battered on the blue line that they actually sacrificed a second round pick for veteran Ron Hainsey, who would you rather face? A 2/3 potential match-up with the defending champion Pens or a wildcard first round against the Canadiens.

For the Blueshirts, the answer remains sketchy. They’ve already lost twice to Montreal. Once at the House of Horrors getting trounced and then the other night in an evenly played game where the Habs prevailed in the shootout. They’ve split the first two with Ottawa.

As far as McLellan’s suggestion, it would be smarter to reseed and have the best teams draw the lower seeds. But that’s not how it currently works. No matter how many points the Caps rack up, they know that after the first round against the second wildcard, they’ll likely have to go through the Pens in a second round rematch. That would match up the two best teams in the conference.

Is it fair? On the level, it doesn’t seem so. Another suggestion could be to go the NBA route. Meaning if a division winner has fewer wins, they don’t get the home court for the first round. Of course, the NBA has six divisions which in itself is too many. But they do reseed.

What if the NHL still rewarded division winners? Then you would have the Caps 1 and the Habs 2 followed by the Pens, Jackets, Rangers, Sens, Leafs and Islanders. It would essentially be the old format with the Caps drawing the Isles while the Habs would face arch rival Toronto in an enticing first round. That would leave the Pens drawing the Sens and the Jackets and Rangers in another interesting storyline featuring John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault. Plus former Jacket Rick Nash and ex-Ranger Brandon Dubinsky.

Let’s be honest. A Blue Jackets vs Rangers first round match-up would be electrifying. Far more interesting than facing the Penguins again. At what point do the same predictable match-ups become boring? Like a broken record, we’re headed in that direction.

It’s time for the NHL to wake up. Bring the NHLPA back to the negotiating table. The players wanted this new format. Make a change or an adjustment that will satisfy both parties along with the fans. I have no interest in another Rangers/Pens rematch. I don’t know why they should cross over and face Montreal. But the wildcard has created this concept. Last year, the Islanders basically avoided the Caps by losing the final game and opting for Atlantic winner Florida. It worked out for them as they advanced to the second round for the first time since 1993.

Who’s to say the same thing doesn’t happen on the final weekend? By keeping the current format, you’re allowing teams to determine the opponent. The Rangers played it straight up and drew the Pens, who easily dispatched them in five.

For now, there’s a week until the March 1 trade deadline. A hot topic that is heating up. That should be more fun than the boring playoff format.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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