SUNRISE, Fla. — Imagine Wimbledon every year matching up the top two seeds in each half of the draw in the second round. Imagine the World Cup placing the four most powerful squads in the same group. Imagine March Madness placing the top four seeds in the country in the same region.
While you’re at it, you may as well imagine there’s no heaven, because it’s easy if you try to imagine the NHL cutting off its own knees by matching up its best teams in the first or second round of the playoffs in a made-for-marketing scheme, because that is exactly what Sixth Avenue and its band of clueless co-conspirators on the Board do year after year after year.
Once again, we’re on course for the two most powerful teams in the East, this time Tampa Bay and Toronto, to meet in the second round, just as surely we’re due for a Western Conference Winnipeg-Nashville matchup. Or if you believe that the Avalanche will challenge the Jets and Predators, well, have no fear, that would mean the best three in the conference are all in the Central Division with one guaranteed to be KO’d in Round 1.
It is laughable that the commissioner and the Board of Governors of “Mr. Jacobs” would do such harm to what should be the greatest championship tournament in pro sports. Such nonsense exists in no other sports universe. It is bad enough for Sixth Avenue to concoct yet another scheme meant to reward weaker teams, but it is infinitely worse for the owners and chief executive officers of the NHL’s most powerful teams to be complicit by their silence.
But then, so many owners of the league’s power franchises sell out their own fan bases to support restrictive CBA policies, so it is easy to imagine why they’d act against their own self-interests under this playoff format scenario. Wouldn’t you think that Brendan Shanahan of Toronto and Jeff Vinik of Tampa Bay, who oversee operations built to remain elite for the long haul, would voice their concern and lobby for a change, for a change? But no, last week’s Board meeting came and went without the topic being addressed in a serious manner, if at all.
Wouldn’t you think the NHL would want to showcase its best teams and its best players in its conference finals? Well, you’d be wrong. By the way, finishing in fourth place in the Atlantic and coming away with the first wild card for a crossover into the Metro is the preferred position this season in the East. Once again, finishing lower in a division has its benefits.
The format under which the NHL has operated since 2013-14 compromises the integrity of the competition. These Round 1 and 2 power matchups do not represent an anomaly, they represent intended consequences of this system that replaced the re-seed format that was the most equitable in sports.
Easier for the league’s television partners to plan itineraries. Easier for the playoffs’ weaker teams to advance. Easier to market brackets. Easier for fans of the eliminated power teams to shut off and turn away from the NHL by the beginning of May.
Auston Matthews/John Tavares and Steven Stamkos/Nikita Kucherov all skating and chasing the Cup in mid-May? Sorry, not possible.
You know who could use a good idea? Roger Goodell, the commissioner of an NFL that is constantly besieged by negative publicity, that’s who.
So here it is: Divisional round: Rams-Saints. Why not?
The playoff format and the league’s divisional alignment should both be restructured for Seattle’s inaugural 2021-22 season. The league’s geography makes it difficult to construct four perfect eight-team divisions, or even eight perfect four-team divisions, but the current set-up is as nonsensical as gerrymandered Wisconsin.
If the owners are not going to be selfish, I will be. If the Board is not going to authorize returning to a re-seed, then I would propose that the Rangers and Islanders play in different divisions so there’d be a chance of a Battle of New York conference final. I’d be happy to suggest the same for the LA Ducks of Anaheim (oops, wrong sport) and the Kings, but there are time-zone issues with which to contend out west.
Regardless, Slap Shots proposed divisional alignment for 2021-22:
Five of the Original Six Division: Rangers, Devils, Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Detroit.
The Other Eastern Time Zone Division: Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina.
The Once and Future Smythe Division: Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Nashville, Dallas, Edmonton, Calgary.
The Out West Division: Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, Seattle, Colorado, Vegas, Arizona.
There is little sillier than the analogy to MLB’s one-game wild-card round from those proposing expansion of the NHL’s 16-team tournament to include some sort of preliminary play-in that would feature each conference’s ninth- and 10th-place teams.
Understand that baseball’s playoffs expanded to include the team with each league’s fifth-best record, not ninth or 10th. And that the additional of the wild-card knockout round elevated the importance of teams winning their respective divisions and thus returned significance to pennant races.
Adding four teams for some sort of 7-10, 8-9 play-into the playoffs would, had the format been in place in 2016-17, have meant the 22nd-overall Kings would have made it to the postseason. Last year, it would have been the 21st-overall Candy Canes.
We’ve cited the impressive nature of the Islanders having put Tavares in their rear-view, but that’s hardly more impressive than the season No. 91 in having in Toronto.
Boy, he must be sleeping well in his PJ’s.
We can surely agree that the Caps taking defenseman Darren Veitch fifth-overall in the 1980 entry draft, one slot ahead of defenseman Paul Coffey, is the worst alternative, consecutive, might-have-been first-round pick in NHL history. Though Hugh Jessiman at 12 in 2003 a pick ahead of Dustin Brown deserves notice, but probably not as much as the Blueshirts in 2006 grabbing Bobby Sanguinetti at 21, one pick ahead of Claude Giroux going to Philly.
Question is, where will Arizona’s third-overall selection of Dylan Strome juxtaposed with Toronto’s immediate next selection of Mitch Marner in 2015 ultimately rank on this all-time ranking of goofs?
Finally, I believe that was Mr. Ryan Reaves speaking on behalf of the NHLPA rank-and-file as to the matter of Tom Wilson.
If you are expecting pearl-clutching, you are in the wrong place.
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