This season, it’s the Bruins and Maple Leafs with the complaints.
And, to some degree they are right. As of tonight, they sit with the 2nd and 4 best records in the Eastern Conference, but they’ll play in the first round of the playoffs.
This is, of course, because the NHL decided a few years back that they wanted divisional rivalries in the playoffs as much as possible. We should, however, remember that this format was put in place tot ry and address two problems with the previous formats.
One, a regular season schedule that is weighted toward more divisional play creates an unfair comparison between teams. Yes, we can argue that Toronto and Boston aren’t getting a fair shake based on their current point totals, but we have to also acknowledge that there is at least a chance that those point totals are inflated by playing more games in a division that has, as of today, 5 non-playoff teams in it. (Yes, I am aware that they may have 5 non-playoff teams because they play Tampa.Toronto and Boston more too, but we’ll never know which is true, will we?)
Secondly, the NHL was also trying to limit the amount of travel a team may have to do in the early rounds of the playoffs. Remember those great days in the Western Conference where your “reward” for finishing with the best record in the Conference in Chicago or Detroit, was a first round match up with a team in California or Vancouver, or visa versa? Keeping most of those first round games within the division helps limit the possibility of having that disadvantage compared to the other playoff teams. It didn’t completely get rid of it though thanks to the wild card format, but when the divisions have an unequal number of teams, you also had to do that.
Maybe after they add Seattle and even out the divisions, we can just go back to having the top four teams in each division play each other in the first two rounds. It makes more sense, but I was never a huge fan of that either.
It would also have Toronto and Boston meeting in the first round anyway, so you’d have to move completely away from using the divisions to determine playoff seeding if you wanted to do that, and Western Conference teams may not love that one.
Like I said, no matter the format, someone is going to complain. 😉