A Flawed System

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View From The Stands Vol. 5

It is a widely accepted notion that the Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to win in all professional sports, but thanks to the flawed NHL playoff structure these troubles can be compounded for teams that play in any of the tougher divisions. This year that division appears to be the Atlantic, where 3 of the top 4 teams in the NHL currently reside. Before the season began no one would have batted an eye if you’d said the Lightning and Maple Leafs would be leading the race for the President’s Trophy, but with the emergence of the Buffalo Sabres as a potential powerhouse things get slightly more complicated. 

The NHL implemented the Wild Card system in the playoffs to help and generate some divisional rivalries. In some cases I guess it has worked, but in other cases I’d ask if the Wild Card system has just created a flawed system that often rewards underperforming teams with beneficial matchups and costs certain market much deserved home playoff games. 

If the playoffs started today 5 teams from the Atlantic Division would find themselves in a playoff position and it would be the Boston Bruins would find themselves in the most advantageous position. Under the current system the playoff brackets would look as follows: 

Tampa Bay (43) vs. Montreal (31)
Toronto (40) vs. Buffalo (38)

Washington (33) vs. Boston (32) 
Columbus (32) vs. New York Islanders (31) 

Under the current system the Bruins could avoid the top 3 teams in the East until the Conference Finals as Tampa Bay (1st), Toronto (2nd), Buffalo (3rd) and Montreal (7th) would be forced to fight it out for a single spot before a bracket crossover, while Boston would have the opportunity to play against the 4th, 5th and 8th seeded teams in the conference. This system not only rewards the Bruins for their Wild Card seeding, but also punishes teams like the Lighting, Maple Leafs and Sabres for their superior play. 

Under the previous system the playoffs would look as follows 

Tampa Bay (1st) vs. New York Islanders (8th)
Washington (4th) vs. Montreal (7th) 
Toronto (3rd) vs. Boston (6th) 
Buffalo (4th) vs. Columbus (5th) 

Not only does the new playoff structure cost some teams advantageous match-ups, but it also punishes teams like Buffalo and rewards Columbus with Home Ice Advantage being lost and gained due to the current structure. 

It’s hard to believe that finishing 4th in your division could ever lead to the easiest route to a Stanley Cup, but that’s the system the NHL currently employs. There has to be a better solution that rewards performance accordingly, doesn’t there? What do you think? What suggestions do you have to fix this broken system or would you just keep it the same?