It's no secret that hockey is a distant 4th for me when it comes to the four major sports. I had a falling out with the Bruins after they made many moves I did not agree with, but this isn't about me or my fandom, it's about what is fair, and really just makes common sense. Whether or not I've been really following them or the NHL as a whole doesn't matter for this. This is something I've hated since the initial change and have complained about before, but after last night where the Washington Capitals lost in the 2nd round yet again, it really is pissing me off.
What I'm talking about of course is the current NHL playoff format.
Before the 2013-14 NHL season the league made IMO a horrible decision and realigned into four divisions, two in each conference and went back to a pre-historic playoff format they used like 30 years ago. In the East there's now the Atlantic and Metropolitan (HORRIBLE name) and in the West there's the Central and Pacific. Instead of the traditional 1-8 seeding with realignment based on remaining seeds, now the top 3 teams from each division and a "wild card" team play each other in two 1-4 seeding pods where the winner of each pod meets in the conference final.
So now instead of the traditional seeding going from 1-8 where the 1 play the 8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 in the first round. We now have these weird matchups in the playoffs where you have teams in the same division beating up on each other. You have the 2nd and 3rd place teams from each division play each other and the winner of each division plays the "wild-card". It's idiotic and I don't understand how anybody could be for this change.
Now you could have the 6th and 7th seed facing off in the first round, meanwhile the 2nd and 3rd seed are playing each other in the same opening round. How the fuck is that fair? It's not and it makes zero sense to me. I don't need to watch hockey every night to understand right and wrong. And giving easier roads to the Stanley Cup Finals to less deserving teams is wrong. You're making the product worse by letting shitty teams play each other, meaning by default one has to advance.
Imagine if in the NBA this year the 2nd seeded Spurs (who went 61-21) instead of playing the 7th seeding Memphis Grizzlies (who went 43-39) played the 3rd seeded Houston Rockets who won 55 games. And now the Thunder who finished 6th with 47 wins instead of getting the 3 seed Rockets now got to play Memphis instead. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense right? That would never happen because it's idiotic. Your reward for finishing with a top record is supposed to be a weaker first round opponent.
Yet that's basically what happened in the NHL this year. In the Eastern Conference playoffs this season the 111 point Pittsburgh Penguins, who had a fantastic season were rewarded by getting the 108 point Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round because they finished 2nd and 3rd in the Metropolitan (honestly what a bad division name) division. Meanwhile in the much weaker Atlantic the 98 point Ottawa Senators got to play the 95 point Boston Bruins in the opening series because they too finished 2nd and 3rd in thir division. The Senators are now in the conference finals after getting the play the 7th and 5th best teams in the East despite finishing with the 6th most points.
Anybody with a brain would say that's unfair, yet it's what has been going on in the NHL for four years now.
If the NHL still seeding 1-8 with the top seeds going to division winners the East would've looked like this:
1. Washington Capitals 118 points (metro champs)
2. Montreal Canadiens 103 points (atlantic champs)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins 111 points
4. Columbus Blue Jackets 108 points
5. New York Rangers 102 points
6. Ottawa Senators 98 points
7. Boston Bruins 95 points
8. Toronto Maple Leafs 95 points
Using the simple 1-8, 2-7 etc. breakdown you can see how the playoff matchups would've been set using the old format. Yet under the current format you had Washington-Toronto (which ended up being a 1-8 matchup), Montreal-New York (2-5), Pittsburgh-Columbus (3-4), and Ottawa-Boston (6-7).
I may be over simplifying things, but for a sport that is simply not nearly as popular as the other three leagues it competes against in the U.S. and Canada I think having playoff matchups where you're having legitimate championship contenders face off in the 1st and 2nd rounds is just bad business. Obviously Cinderella runs can be good for ratings as well, but it's a lot better when they earn it. Like if the Senators had to beat the defending champ Penguins in the first round and then like the Canadiens or Capitals it would be a hell of better story line IMO. Beating a shitty Bruins team and an overrated Rangers team just isn't as impressive. Yet they're now 4 wins away from a berth in the Stanley Cup, while the Capitals who finished as the best team in the NHL had to play against the 2nd best team in the NHL.
Imagine if in the NFL playoffs this year they decided that the Patriots (14-2) and Chiefs (12-4) had to play each other in the AFC divisional round despite being the two teams that got byes and had the Steelers (11-5) and Texans (9-7) get each other. It just isn't fair, you're giving easier roads to teams that simply don't deserve it.
The old NHL playoffs used to realign so when a lower seed had an upset they still would have a difficult road. As they should, if you get into the playoffs as an 8 seed it should be more challenging for you or else what is the point of the regular season if there's no reward for being more successful during it?
In 2012 the LA Kings shocked the world by becoming the first 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup. They had to beat the 2 and 3 seeds along the way because the seeds realigned next round. They made it as hard as possible to advance as a lower seed.
This year the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in the 2nd round despite being the top two teams point wise in the Eastern-Conference. The one argument I can understand for doing this is to ensure that match up, but it still just doesn't sit right to me to have that as a second round match up. I wanted the Caps to win the East so I'm a little biased, but even if it wasn't them I'd still be upset just as a sports fan. This format is idiotic and there's no convincing me otherwise.
Maybe the Capitals are chokers and weren't going to make it out of the East anyways, as they've lost in the 1st round as the President's Trophy winner in years before the realignment. But that still doesn't mean for a fairness stand point the 1-8 playoff seeding format was much better. Just imagine if the Bucks and Pacers played in the first round of the NBA playoffs when both teams are essentially .500 teams and they Celtics and Cavs played in the 2nd round despite being 1 and 2 seeds respectively.
I could go on for hours and examples but it won't change anything. Just know this NHL, when you're wondering why outsiders and casual fans don't really care about your product, maybe having the worst playoff format in all of sports has something to do with it.