More and more we keep hearing about the playoff format that the league introduced in 2014, which followed a league realignment that involved Detroit and Columbus moving to the Eastern Conference. The league went from six divisions to four and introduced the Wild Card system to help offset the imbalance of teams between the East and the West.
With many players including Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Brad Marchand joining in the discussion against it, the league has taken an incredibly firm stand on this issue with any talk of even discussing it being shut down immediately. The reasons for this, according to the NHL , are:
#1) Rivalries are built in the post-season
#2) The best hockey is played in the first round before everyone gets all banged up in the war of attrition.
These seem, on the surface, like valid and even reasonable arguments but, if you dig deeper, you quickly find the obvious and glaring flaws. The most obvious flaws are:
#1) No reward for the teams that perform the best all year in the regular season. The current format eliminates some of the best teams quickly which leads us to….
#2) Weaker teams get longer playoff runs. This is likely the gem as far as the NHL is concerned. As Gary Bettman has shown, he is absolutely in love with rewarding weak teams with artificial parity. Bonus playoff rounds to weaker teams is right in line with his basic philosophy in this regard.
#3) The best rivalries are built in the later rounds of the playoffs. Being busted in the first round is one thing, but being eliminated in the conference finals, when you are so close to the Cup Final that you can taste it…. THAT is what builds true truer and deeper emotional responses between teams.
It has also been commented on that the old 1 vs 8 format that predated the current one sometimes created bad travel scenarios for the teams that found themselves in positions such as Los Angeles Vs St Louis for example. To this I simply reply, that travel is a necessary part of the game. Did it stop Detroit from winning back to back cups while in the Western Conference?
As a final thought, if the NHL is so concerned with the abundance of injuries and loss of quality of play in the playoffs, perhaps it is time to re-examine the idea of “playoff hockey”. As has been stated many times, the NHL is the only league in North America that dramatically changes how it referees their games in the post season. While my opinion is not overly popular with many old school types, the game is changing rapidly and the idea that we should remove all the thuggery, interference, and cheap shots that have been eliminated in the regular season should now also apply to the post season is one that is overdue.