30 teams are sitting at home, with many of them knowing that they are not on the level of the Aves or Bolts well before the start of playoffs. However, there were plenty of teams who felt they could be major competitors within the bracket, a very unfair bracket (to some). Let’s do some retrospectives on the teams we’ve lost along the way. Does their autopsy make an argument for a change in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs?
The Best of the Worst
The division-based layout benefited the Pacific division quite a bit. To get to the 80s-esque Battle of Alberta the Oilers and Flames had, on paper, weaker foes. The Pacific was the only division with two 100-point teams in the standings. The Flames were also the lowest of all four division winners in terms of standings points with 111. The Oilers had 104 points, the lowest of any squad who finished 2nd in their respective divisions.
Calgary’s first opponent was the Dallas Stars, which by the way the Stars have quite the netminder for the future in Jake Oettinger. According to MoneyPuck, Oettinger had just over 10 goals saved above expected, the 3rd best amount for any playoff goaltender (Shesterkin & Vasilevskiy). They were getting plenty of shots, quality shots at that, towards the net and avoided a scare against a Stars squad that snuck in during the Final days of the regular season. Looking at the offensive end for Edmonton, 3 Oilers have their spot in the top 5 of expected goals. Those players are Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid, and Evander Kane (MoneyPuck).
It was not surprising to see these two teams light up the scoreboard in their 5 matchups between each other. 45 goals in total within those 5 games is ridiculous. It catapulted the Oilers and gave the duo of McDavid and Drasital multiple career-defining moments. Then it was all swept away pretty swiftly by the Aves. Not that many people outside of Western Canada would expect them to get to Lord Stanley’s Final. Even with a valiant effort, it was still a sweep, an offensively dominant one. Heading into the postseason it was clear the NHL Central division was a much more competitive group. If the Pacific got a good shake on the format, then that means someone got the short end.
Victims of the NHL Playoff Format
Minnesota had a banner season for the franchise, they reached heights in points not seen in its young history. Kirill Kaprizov was magical during the regular season tallying 108 points with 47 goals. Their reward is getting to play the 4th best team in the Conference when they finish 2nd best in the entire Western Conference. Looking at the Flames and Oilers, who finished 3rd and 5th, got to play the 6th and 7th seeds in the West. The Oilers finished in the bottom half of the 8 teams that qualified and got to play the 6th seed, completely unfair to teams that finish in the top half and eventually have to play each other.
Taking it to the top, the Avalanche played the Predators in the first round which was 1 vs 8. The second round was versus the Blues which was the 4 seed. So it stayed fair, but it took an upset in the first round for it to do so. If the Wild would have beat the Blues in the first round the number 1 and 2 overall seed would’ve had to play each other in the second round. SECOND ROUND. Not the Conference Final, because that would mean the NHL Playoffs were not bound by division.
In the NHL Eastern Conference the 4 and 5 seeds ended up duking it out in the Conference Final, already a little strange, but the NHL does allow that opening. The East had pretty similar overall seed matchups compared to the division matchups. The Rangers benefitted the most as a 4 seed, playing the 7-seeded Penguins. The Leafs, while for sure not going to garner much sympathy, do deserve an examination of their first-round matchup. As the 3 seed in the East, they faced the Lightning in the first round. If the NHL was not division based in the postseason, the Leafs and Lightning wouldn’t have seen each other until the Conference Final.
There’s a good argument to be said about the best teams have to beat the great teams in their way. Whether that be in the first, or last round of postseason play. However, that shouldn’t mean penalizing great teams if their division is much stronger than their counterparts. An NHL team only plays teams in their division 2 more times than non-division in-conference opponents. For the betterment of the most exciting playoffs in professional sports, please, make it fair.