Saturday, March 31, 2012
NHL Playoff Seedings Need to Change
Let's face it, there are a lot of changes the NHL could use to improve their product. They could start by expanding their player marketing past Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, clarifying head shot rules, being more consistent with player discipline, and getting the Winnipeg Jets out of the Eastern Conference.
Add one more much needed change to the NHL: playoff seedings.
The current system, which grants the division winners the top three seeds in each conference, is a joke. The whole idea behind playoff seedings is to match the best and worst teams in the first round, increasing the probability that the top two teams will meet in the conference finals.
But, in the NHL, that isn't happening. Instead, teams like the L.A. Kings and Florida Panthers get home-ice advantage in the first round, despite being the 11th and 12th best teams in the league. The Penguins, with 12 more points than the Panthers, are fighting with the Flyers for the fourth seed in which they will inevitably play each other in the opening round. As it stands, the Penguins and Flyers are ranked 4th and 5th in the league in points, respectively.
With the regular season winding down, it looks as though the New Jersey Devils will be the sixth seed when the playoffs start on April 11th. That means their first matchup will be against the Florida Panthers, a team that is trying to make their first playoff series since 2000, and probably will despite having a losing record. The Southeast Division, containing the Hurricanes, Jets, Capitals and Lightning has been mediocre this season but the Panthers have managed to climb to the top thanks in large part to their 16 overtime losses.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils have more points than the Panthers and have played more games against the Atlantic Division where four out of five teams will make the playoffs. At this point, it would be considered a larger upset if the Panthers defeated the Devils despite having home-ice advantage and a higher seed. In that same vein, what incentive do the Devils have to try and move into a fourth or fifth seed, knowing they will play Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, the two favorites to win the Eastern Conference?
My solution to this issue is this; set the seedings based on the total number of points at the end of the regular season. If you have the fifth most points in the Eastern Conference, you get the fifth seed. To take this one step further, stop creating automatic bids for teams that win their division. If four teams from the Atlantic division and four teams from the Northeast division have more points than anyone in the Southeast division, then no one from the Southeast gets into the playoffs. There really is no excuse for winning the division and lacking enough points to be in playoff contention, especially when you play in a weaker division and over half the conference is eligible to get in.
Is this really what the NHL playoffs are all about? The team with 37 wins gets home ice advantage because they won a lousy conference while the two teams below them have 48 and 45 wins? For the health of the sport, it is vital to make this change after this season because, as it stand, you have the Blackhawks and Devils playing inferior teams in the opening round despite their sixth seeding in their respective conferences. Change the format to the playoffs and allow the best teams to meet as the rounds become more and more meaningful.