Less than two weeks remain on the NHL Regular Season calendar and with each passing day the standings in both Conferences are an ever changing roller coaster ride. There is a tight race for the final few playoff spots in both Conferences that will no doubt continue to be an interesting topic through the final days of the season.
More impressive is the Pacific Division; Four teams all with a realistic shot of landing the coveted 3rd seed in the Western Conference and home ice advantage for the first round of the postseason.
Needless to say parody is at an all time high in the NHL!
While the NHL has worked hard to create a league with parody and equality it can be argued that a negative byproduct of the current system is preventing the NHL postseason from being as competitive and entertaining as it actually could be!
By providing the Divisional winners automatic ranks of 1, 2 and 3 the NHL has actually created an unequal playing field for great teams that happen to play in the same Division as other great teams.
As of Sunday March 25th the 4 best teams in the Eastern Conference could all be found in the Atlantic Division, and a similar situation exists in the Western Conference as 4 of the top 5 teams all reside in the Central Division. Because the winners of the other Divisions are automatically given the 2nd and 3rd seeds for the playoffs the teams that don’t win the Atlantic or Central Divisions will be ranked 4th, 5th and 6th going into the playoffs.
Clearly the Atlantic and Central Division are the strongest divisions in professional hockey but yet they are penalized instead of being rewarded for icing great teams and having great seasons. In fact the teams in the Atlantic and Central Division are so strong they have managed to dominate the Eastern and Western Conference despite having to play each other so frequently. Each team will play inter-divisional rivals 6 times this season; for a total of 24 games.
Yup that’s right; they play about 30% of their games against each other and yet they still manage to have more points than the best teams in Divisions like the Southeast, Northeast, Pacific and Northwest (Vancouver Excluded) who play a majority of their schedule against inferior teams within their own Division.
It’s only logical to assume that because they play so many of their games against each other that these teams must be dominating the other Divisions within their Conference this season; the season totals answer that question.
Atlantic vs Rest of Eastern Conference: 109 – 57 – 17
Central vs Rest of Western Conference: 103 – 70 – 16
Instead of rewarding the Best of the Worst in the Southeast with the 3rd seed perhaps the NHL should just start rewarding teams for icing a good team and having great seasons by giving them a fair and equitable shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Here is an example of what I mean:
If the NHL were to start it’s playoffs tomorrow and all of the top ranked teams win their first round match-ups the Eastern Conference semi-finals would look like this.
(1) NY Rangers vs (4) Pittsburgh Penguins
(2) Boston Bruins vs (3) Florida Panthers
The two best teams in the East (Rangers & Pens) would be forced to play each other while the Bruins would benefit from being the second seed and get the easiest opponent (Panthers). Doesn’t really make sense and seem fair to me! The Rangers get screwed over by having to face the toughest opponent left in the East and similarly the Pens get screwed over by having to play the Conference Semi-Finals on the road and against the best team in the East. The same can be said for the Western Conference.
Divisions are developed in every professional sports league to create rivalries, well could you imagine any better setting for a heated rivalry than a Conference Finals with a shot to play for the Stanley Cup on the line? Imagine the Pens playing the Flyers in a battle of Pennsylvania, or the Leafs and Sens creating a frenzy in Ontario? Well the Leafs and Sens might be a stretch but you get my drift.
By structuring the Standings the way they do the NHL is actually limiting the potential for a great Divisional match-up in the Conference Finals. Over the past 10 seasons we have only seen 1 of these match-ups in the East Final and only 2 in the West.
The only way to say with any certainty that the two best teams are playing for the Stanley Cup is to change the Standing structure and allow the best teams to get the best seeds, regardless of the Division they play in. I don’t mind if one spot is guaranteed for each Division but they should not get special treatment just for being the best of the worst.
What do you think?
About the Author
Written by Kirk Butler
Born and raised in Murray Harbour - PEI. Like many Canadians hockey is my religion; as a kid I had the pleasure of playing my minor hockey with Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards of the 2004 Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning. I played competitive hockey until the age of 21 which included stops in the American Prep School System, Canadian Junior Hockey and the CIS. I now get my competitive fix on the golf course as a scratch golfer. More to come: Kirk Butler PEI, Canada