Are we actually complaining about getting to see rivals battle more regularly?
If your only argument against the NHL’s current playoff system is that the best teams should get at least one round against a “weaker” opponent, what argument do you even have?
If higher ranked teams are supposed to beat weaker opponents, they would all meet in the later rounds of the playoffs anyway. In that case, their “reward” for finishing higher in an 82-game season under the old 1-8 model is seemingly making it a little closer to the Finals before being put out? Or, if they manage to get over the hump (as the best team should at the end of the day), win the Cup.
The entire argument for the 1-8 model is predicated on the idea that the top teams have it easier until the later rounds – while completely ignoring the crap shoot that is the NHL playoffs. The Presidents’ Trophy has been awarded 32 times since it’s inception, and only 8 of those teams have went on to win the Cup. Compare that with 6 President’s Trophy winning teams who have been eliminated in the opening round, and finishing first regardless of the format suddenly doesn’t seem like such an advantage anyway.
The NHL is rife with parity
Whether it’s in the quarter finals or the conference finals, you’re facing stiff competition. Hockey fans bent on changing the current format don’t seem to realize just how different the NHL is to other leagues such as the NBA. From 1994 to 2016, ten #8 seeds eliminated a #1 seed in the NHL playoffs – two years ago, the Rangers (as a WC1 team) put out the Canadiens. On the opposite side, only five NBA #8 seeds have made it past a #1 seed in the league’s history.
Anyone familiar with the analytics can tell you that NHL outcomes are victims of much more luck than the NBA or the NFL. In those sports, stars have their hands in on just about every offensive possession. While the idea of playoff seeding may test our notions of fairness, it really is inconsequential when you’re talking about a 4-round death match where the differences (on paper) between most of the top-16 teams can be almost negligible. But, if it means that much to you, the current format still offers an “incentive” to have a great regular season: win the damn division and face a wildcard team in the first round.
Regardless of how much luck or skill (statistically speaking) is involved in each win and loss, sport thrives on drama. The average North American isn’t calculating advanced stats and how mathematically likely an upset is once the playoffs roll around. In the playoffs, it’s all about the emotional attachment you have made to your team and willing them on through four grueling brackets. The importance of seeding really falls off once the post-season begins – it’s Cup final or bust.
If this is the case, wouldn’t fans rather have better odds at viewing divisional rival series? Matchups that pit regional history rather than an off-chance meeting that only came about because your opponent lost two key players longterm during the regular season and therefore fell back in the standings?
Toronto and Montreal?
The last time they met was in the 70’s. Sport is distraction – of which there are infinite substitute expenses. The league is creating dramatic matchups to launch the playoffs, and we’re sitting here complaining because Toronto might have to face Boston in round 1 instead of 2 or 3? Is that somehow supposed to drastically alter either team’s chances when you would have both of them facing “weaker” opponents beforehand?
I, for one, am salivating at the opportunity to see another Toronto/Boston, Winnipeg/Nashville, Pittsburgh/Washington series. No one cares about your feelings or subjective ideas of “fairness” – this is sports, and we’re here to be entertained.