There is no denying that when the NHL playoffs roll around, there is a different type of buzz in the atmosphere for hockey fans. Compared to other sports, nothing can compare to the immediate intensity the NHL brings to its postseason. I love that anyone can come out of the first round regardless of the seeding, but I can also admit that there might be a small problem.
Simply put, the playoffs’ first round should not be as intense and exciting to watch as the second or third rounds. Unfortunately, that has been the case of late, and in some instances, two of the top five teams in the league have been meeting up in the first round.
This is due to the NHL playoffs’ structure and the changes they made in the 2013-14′ season. It was formerly your traditional 1-8 seeding, meaning the top 8 teams in each conference made it, and the one seed would play the eighth seed, and so on. They would then re-seed the next round, having the top remaining team play the lowest seed.
This changed under commissioner Gary Bettman, and he has expressed how it “is working,” and they don’t have any plans to change it. They now use a divisional bracket-style format, one that takes the top-three teams from each division and then two wild-card teams in each conference, regardless of their division. They no longer re-seed the rounds as they go, so top teams often meet each other earlier than they “should.”
NHL Players Displeased With The Format
Even some of the league’s highest talent disagree with the playoff format. Throughout the years, you’ve seen names like Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, and Sidney Crosby speak up on the matter. More recently, Crosby criticized the format, stating he prefers the old format and that the league should reward any team for a solid regular season.
It makes sense from a player’s perspective because you battle all year. It would be best if you didn’t play another accomplished high seed immediately in the first round. You are potentially playing a division rival, who may also deserve a weaker opponent, seemingly punishing the two teams.
MacKinnon has addressed his displeasure, stating, “the Toronto-Tampa thing is silly” when talking about a 3rd-place team and a 1st-place team meeting in the first round of the playoffs. The players would probably be OK with eliminating the wild card as a whole. It doesn’t seem like that will happen anytime soon; however, considering the previous mention of Bettman stating, “this is working” when referring to the new format.
What Do Fans prefer?
I can’t speak for everyone here, but both formats have pros and cons. The new format allows for a march madness feel where “anyone can come out the first round.” In contrast, the old format offers better chances of seeing an intense Stanley Cup final.
At the end of the day, I would rather see the better series in the finals, as opposed to the first round. We may see that again someday. Until then, I will enjoy my NHL playoffs regardless!
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