In a move that will surprise some and likely enrage fans, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to continue the divisional and wild card playoff format for at least another year. That format holds that the top three teams in each division automatically qualify for a playoff berth, and the next two closest teams in the East and West lock up the wild card spots.
The news was first reported by Pierre LeBrun.
The NHL and the NHLPA have agreed to a one-year extension of the current divisional alignment and playoff format. The matter will continue to be discussed between the two sides moving forward. So earliest change would be for 2020-21 if/when there is change.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 3, 2019
As recently as March, players noted they were unhappy with the current format, and Keith Yandle mentioned that teams picking their opponent might be fun.
From Elliotte Friedman’s March 26 31 Thoughts:
11. More than ever, players are letting it be known to the NHLPA that they are unhappy with the playoff format. I was a little skeptical because it is CBA time, and no one easily gives up anything during negotiations. However, the complaints are legit. It is unlikely that things will be changed for next year, but the players have to sign off on anything longer than that and have asked for more proof that the current setup works as intended.
While it has fueled rivalries in California and certainly Pittsburgh/Washington, it hasn’t given a Battle of Alberta, a Battle of Ontario, a Montcalm/Wolfe re-enactment, Islanders/Rangers or even Florida/Tampa. If we had more of those, there’d be fewer complaints. One of the reasons the previous method was changed was NBC wanted more certainty of match-ups in the second round. In theory, you could go to brackets (1-vs.-8 winner faces 4-vs.-5 winner, etc.) as opposed to the previous re-seeding.
That complaint is something captain Alex Ovechkin agrees with, and he once called the current playoff format “weird.”
Currently, these are the top eight teams in each division if the teams would play a one through eight playoff format:
1: Tampa Bay Lightning (124 pts)
2: Boston Bruins (105 pts)
3: Washington Capitals (102 pts)
4: Toronto Maple Leafs (99 pts)
5: New York Islanders (99 pts)
6: Pittsburgh Penguins (97 pts)
7: Carolina Hurricanes (95 pts)
8: Columbus Blue Jackets (94 pts)
1: Calgary Flames (107 pts)
2: San Jose Sharks (97 pts)
3: Winnipeg Jets (96 pts)
4: Nashville Predators (96 pts)
5: St. Louis Blues (94 pts)
6: Vegas Golden Knights (93 pts)
7: Dallas Stars (91 pts)
8: Colorado Avalanche (88 pts)
However, if the playoffs started today, these would be the matchups thanks to the divisional formatting:
Tampa (124 pts) vs Columbus (94 pts)
Washington (102 pts) vs Carolina (95 pts)
Boston (105 pts) vs Toronto (99 pts)
New York (99 pts) vs Pittsburgh (97 pts)
Calgary (107 pts) vs Colorado (88 pts)
Winnipeg (96 pts) vs Dallas (91 pts)
Nashville (96 pts) vs St. Louis (94 pts)
San Jose (97 pts) vs Vegas (93 pts)
You can see where the current format would be problematic. The Bruins and Leafs are actually ranked second and fourth in points in the East, and the winner will play the leading team in the second round.
And Caps fans will be familiar with this system wrecking the entire post-season. The Caps played the Penguins in the second round in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 season. In 16-17, the Caps and Penguins were the two best teams in the entire league, but faced off before the Eastern Conference Final because they were both in the Metro Division.
The only thing the current playoff scenario gets right is the first-round first-place versus last matchup. When the playoffs are supposed to reward a good regular season, the current format doesn’t guarantee that luxury at all.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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