MartinLucic

A look at the future shows what playoff chaos realignment could wreak

I remain somewhat wary of the NHL's realignment system. 

Believe me, I'm all for keeping rivalries strong, and emphasizing division play further, but I have a little trouble with how it extends to the postseason. We can all agree that the Stanley Cup Playoffs, along with March Madness and the World Cup, is the best sports tournament there is. It's why we love this silly game in the first place, for the chance to watch grown men skate with a giant trophy that none of them can keep.

But I wonder if we're artificially changing the nature of the postseason with this new format.

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Here's how the playoffs would look if we started them today. Yes, it's very silly to do this after a dozen games, but just look at this for an example:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Detroit (WC2) vs. Toronto (A1/E1)
Tampa Bay (A3) vs. Boston (A2) 

Metropolitan Division

Montreal (WC1) vs. Pittsburgh (M1/E2)
NY Islanders (M3) vs. Carolina (M2)

Western Conference

Central Division

Phoenix (WC1) vs. Colorado (C1/W2)
St. Louis (C3) vs. Chicago (C2)

Pacific Division

Los Angeles (WC2) vs. San Jose (P1/W1)
Vancouver (P3) vs. Anaheim (P2) 

I'm certain that there's many who will argue that it wouldn't be fair if the Wild Card system wasn't in place. The fourth place team in the Metropolitan Division (right now, Columbus) will almost certainly be worse than the fifth place team in the Atlantic Division (currently, Detroit), so why should the former get in place instead of the latter? 

Because, if we're supposed to be emphasizing division play, that's what you have to do. If the Rangers are going to see the Bruins fewer times than they're going to see the Hurricanes, why should they be judged on their quality vs. both, rather than just the Hurricanes?

If anything, the NHL needs to further emphasize divisional play. It would cut down on the bummer out-of-conference games (Florida or Phoenix vs. almost anyone) that get played every year, and make the big market ones that actually mean something (Basically any quality East team vs. Chicago) more highly sought after tickets and likely more highly rated on television. 

There's probably not going to ever be a perfect system that makes people happy. But, on the premise that the National Hockey League prefers to emphasize divisional rivalries with a divisional playoff format, they need to stick to their guns. They need to find a way to make for more divisional play (preferably weighting out-of-division, yet in conference the same as they do out-of-conference matches) and a full commitment to the divisional playoffs.

Choosing to do so will make the postseason more heated, make the regular season more chaotic, and creating passion and anger in fans. Why the NHL is choosing to try and have it both ways is beyond me.

Steve Lepore

About Steve Lepore

Steve Lepore is a writer for Bloguin and a correspondent for SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

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