The Toronto Maple Leafs have been in existence as a professional sports franchise since 1917, and they’re currently enjoying their best regular season ever. However, barring a miracle, they’re not going to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. You know why? Because of the shitty seeding method the NHL uses.
In other sports where two conferences and four divisions exist, it’s standard for the team with the most wins to play the team with the least wins. For example, in 2018’s NFL playoffs, the New England Patriots were the AFC’s top seeded team, and received a bye in the first round of the playoffs. So they, in turn, play the lowest seeded team which advances past the first round. (#1 plays #3, 4, 5 or 6.)
The NHL, which used to do things that way (minus the bye, or course), changed the playoff format in 2014 to where the winner of the conference (#1) plays the lowest ranked team, regardless of conference (#8, the second wild card) and the winner of the other division (#2) plays the 2nd lowest ranked team (#7), regardless of conference. That leaves the 2nd and 3rd teams in each division to play each other in the first round. So instead of doing a true 1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, 3 plays 6, 4 plays 5, the NHL decided to really pump up the first round games by manufacturing division rivalries.
Now, there have been some really great playoff series’ that came out of those division rivalries, but I feel like returning to a true 1-8 format would make for a better NHL playoffs as a whole. As it is, we’re wasting a lot of the good matchups early on in the playoffs and I feel like we should be working on making the later rounds of the playoffs better.
For example, this year in the Atlantic Division, the three highest ranked teams are the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. They all have more points than the highest ranked team in the Metropolitan Division (Toronto is tied with the Washington Capitals as of this writing), which means, under the current format, two of the three best teams in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Toronto and Boston or Tampa Bay, will face each other in the first round of the playoffs.
This is stupid. Why would the NHL want one of the best teams in the entire Eastern Conference out of the playoffs in the first round?
Under a true 1-8 method, Boston would play The Flyers and Tampa Bay would Play New Jersey, which are both much more favorable matchups for those two than Toronto.
It’s not quite as bad in the West, where Nashville will most likely face Colorado or St. Louis in the first round, with Winnipeg and Minnesota battling it out as the 2nd and 3rd representatives of the Central. The Vegas Golden Knights will most likely play Anaheim or Los Angeles, whichever one of them gets the first wildcard seed, leaving the other to take on the San Jose Sharks in the first round. The point disparity between the haves and have-nots of the playoff teams in the Western Conference aren’t as wide as those of teams in the East, but still, the seeding will rob us of a couple of good first round matchups that could potentially develop into quality rivalries. Minnesota/San Jose and Winnipeg/Anaheim or LA, for example.
Now, there is some hope for a return to a 1-8 seed in the future, and the Maple Leafs are the key. Toronto is the center of the NHL universe, as that is where the NHL headquarters resides. If they are indeed knocked out in the first round of this year’s playoffs because they’re facing a much better team points-wise than they would under a 1-8 format, you can bet your last Loonie that every sportswriter and blogger north of the border will raise a racket that would make Rush proud! Under that kind of pressure the NHL will at least consider making some kind of change to their seeding format….won’t they?
The NHL playoffs are already the best postseason in professional sports. Just imagine if they get even better than they are now!