The NHL playoff format is broken
The Toronto Maple Leafs are on pace to finish as the third best team in the Eastern Conference this season.
As a reward, they are projected to face the second best team in the East, most likely to be the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. After the NHL made the decision to switch to a new postseason format in 2013, it is now clear that it is not the best system.
As the playoffs quickly approach, many people in the hockey world have been vocal about their thoughts on the playoff format.
Toronto’s projecting to end w/ 103 points and will open up as a road team in RD1 against Boston (projected 117 points.)
Pittsburgh is projected to end w/ 97 points and will open up as a home team in RD1 against 96-point Philadelphia.
How is this OK?
— Travis Yost (@travisyost) March 11, 2018
The current format was introduced in 2013, with the top team in each division playing a wild card team in the first round. The other top two teams in each division play each other in the first round. This sometimes results in great teams getting matched up in the first round simply because of how their division performs.
“The idea is supposed to be that the best teams forge themselves the easiest path to the Stanley Cup final as a reward for their excellence in the regular season,” said Jared Clinton of The Hockey News.
“There needs to be more reward for winning during the regular season,” he said.
Many fans and experts agree that a traditional playoff format of the one versus eight seed format is what works best. This format allows teams that performed well during the regular season to get easier matchups in the playoffs.
“Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto are the trop three teams in the Eastern Conference, and two of them will have to play in the first round. That simply doesn’t make sense,” said Ian McLaren of TheScore.
“I’d prefer the old 1-8 conference seeding, and in an ideal world, we would see a 1-16 format,” he said.
The new format was meant to promote division rivalries, making the playoffs more exciting for the fans. The NHL’s attempt at forcing rivalries to flourish has been quite unsuccessful so far.
“Teams have geographical or historical rivals anyway. The rivalry between the Rangers and Islanders hasn’t become more heated because of the divisional format,” Clinton said.
“The post-season doesn’t need to be restricted to a divisional format in order for those rivalries to come about,” he said.
It is unclear at the moment whether or not the NHL will abolish the current format they have in place.
There is no doubt that there will be phenomenal hockey played in the first round, but teams that deserve to go far will have a much tougher route to do so. In a bright year for the Maple Leafs, an extremely tough matchup awaits them.