Playoff Format Assures Early Exit for Top 4 Team
By Greg @GreekGoalie35
As I stated a month ago, the race for the Central would be a three-team sprint that comes down to the last couple of games. The developments between the Blues and Blackhawks last night were further proof that the Preds may have squandered a ticket to the Conference Finals. How’s that you ask?
St. Louis and Chicago DESPISE each other. Plain and simple. They went toe-to-toe in a hard-hitting affair at the raucous “Madhouse on Madison” with the Blues pulling off a narrow 2-1 victory in regulation, surpassing Nashville for the top spot in the Central. The teams meet up again on Thursday, this time at Scottrade Center. Regardless of who misses out on the division title, those two would meet in the first round of the playoffs, ensuring one of the top 4 teams in the West has an early exit from the post-season. The winner (survivor in this case) would be banged up and their scraps be fed to their next opponent to finish off. But has anybody questioned the logic that the 3rd and 4th best teams in the conference will meet in the first round?
The fact of the matter is this…. One of those teams, (Nashville, Chicago, St Louis) won’t be playing hockey by the end of the month. You know who will be? Vancouver, Calgary or LA. Guaranteed. Even though those teams sit at the bottom of the playoff rung, one of them will actually have home-ice in the first round. Sound familiar? It should because the NFL gives automatic playoffs spots (and home field) to inferior teams that win a weak division, leaving better teams playing on the road. Yes, anybody can win the Stanley Cup once we hit April 15th, but if you finish in the top half of the conference, you deserve home ice in that opening round. Conceivably, you’re looking at a team from the Central being in a 3-way tie for the division, starting off their Stanley Cup push on the road because of their shootout victories. Wrap your head around that for a second.
Meanwhile, as it stands now, Vancouver and Calgary would play in the first round. The 6th and 7th ranked teams in the conference… one of them is assured of making the second round. The reason behind this is the NHL continues to facilitate divisional teams playing each other to build rivalries. What keeps getting lost (somehow) is that the PLAYOFFS build rivalries, not divisional play. Unquestionably, the two biggest rivalries over the last 20 years was Detroit vs Colorado in the mid-late 90’s, and more recently, Chicago vs LA. Does anybody see geography as a catalyst for the hatred between them?
My solution is simple. Award the division winners the 1 and 2 seeds and everybody else is considered a wild card. The next 6 best teams get in, regardless of division. Under this system, Vancouver would open up on the road against Nashville, and Calgary at St. Louis. Now doesn’t that make more sense based on where the teams actually finish? After the first round, you re-seed to ensure the best remaining teams don’t face each other until the Conference Finals.
The NHL post-season has been unpredictable as ever, seeing numerous bottom tier playoff teams make pushes, and in some cases win Lord Stanley’s hardware. But let’s not completely ignore the regular season and actually reward teams for their performance over a grueling six-month haul leading up to the playoffs. Commissioner Bettman, after you inevitably get booed prior to you handing over the hardware, work on getting the playoff format right please.