Cold Hard Rants: A New Method of Determining Playoff Opponents
Let’s compare and contrast. The dazzling chart below features the top 6 players (in my estimation—goalies excluded) from the eighth, seventh, and sixth place finishers in the Western Conference last year.
(8) Anaheim Ducks (7) Columbus Blue Jackets (6) St. Louis Blues
Ryan Getzlaf Rick Nash Brad Boyes
Corey Perry Kristian Huselius David Backes
Scott Niedermayer RJ Umberger David Perron
Chris Pronger Rotislav Klesla TJ Oshie
Teemu Selanne Jakub Voracek Keith Tkachuk
Bobby Ryan Fredrik Modin Andy McDonald
Now, you are the San Jose Sharks. You have just concluded an exhausting and, most importantly, successful 82 game season. As the regular season comes to an end, and you eagerly await the start of the “real season”, where heroes are made, and dreams are realized, you come to the harsh realization that your “reward” for finishing first in the Western Conference is a first round playoff date against the eighth place team, an experienced, “built for the playoffs”, Anaheim team. Look at the above chart, and answer me this, is facing the Anaheim Ducks as opposed to the Blue Jackets or Blues any reward whatsoever?
It’s time for the NHL to revolutionize their playoff structure. As I have argued in this column umpteen times, the NHL season is far too long, but given that the league relies on attendance (“the gate”) for the bulk of their revenues, I have begrudgingly accepted that the season is not going to get any shorter, any time soon. That being the case, the NHL needs to ensure that the team that does perform the best over the 82 game season, truly does get a reward for their accomplishment in finishing at the top of the standings. The reward needs to be as follows: that team gets to choose their opponent in the first round of the playoffs. Consequently, the 2nd overall team in each conference gets the second choice of opponent, and so on. By instituting this type of playoff format, there would be no issues of “tanking” by a lower seeded team (once confirmed of a playoff spot of course) to face a specific opponent that may be higher ranked, but that you also match up well with. Simply put, the Sharks should never have had to play the Ducks in the first round, as you damn well know that had the Sharks known how things would play out, they gladly would have lost an extra game or two in the regular season if it meant avoiding the Ducks and playing one of the Blues or Blue Jackets instead. Under this new system, the Sharks would have really garnered an advantage for finishing first (don’t begin to talk about home ice advantage to me, it’s been proven ad nauseum to be a nominal advantage at best.)
The NHL is in need of a shake-up, something revolutionary that would do something to garner it (positive) attention, especially in the United States. It is a generally agreed upon fact that the NHL already has the best playoff system, but that’s not to say it shouldn’t be better. This new wrinkle would do that, without causing fundamental changes to the game that cause so many traditionalists consternation (hello shootouts!). Can you imagine the motivation a lower ranked team would garner by being picked to be the supposed sacrificial lamb of a top ranked opponent? How about the arm chair conversations this system would lead to, over what team should be selected as the opponent, thus engaging the casual fan in yet another aspect of the game. Can’t you see the national networks chomping at the bit to conduct a television special where the match-ups would be unveiled? One thing I know for sure, the San Jose Sharks definitely would not have faced the Anaheim Ducks last year. This system would finally bring just rewards for a successful season’s body of work.
For IllegalCurve.com, I am Drew Mindell.
Do you think this idea has merit, or do you prefer the status quo? Let’s hear from you in the comments.
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