Cold Hard Rants: A New Method of Determining Playoff Opponents

Posted by Drew Mindell in Cold Hard Rants on December 1, 2009 — 13 Comments

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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  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Richard

    I like the idea–to a point. I think if you let the first team pick their opponent, the selecting ends there. After that, every team should seed out according to points.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com dave

    Not sure I agree. I don’t think it would help San Jose if they get to pick an apparently “weaker team”. How fired up, how big would the chip on that team’s shoulder be, to beat a team that “hand selected” them.

    I say expand league to 32 teams/4 division and go to an NFL style playoff format. (kidding).

    Reality is if you are playing a 7 game series and you can’t beat a team that finished 7 spots below you, you likely don’t deserve to be a Stanley Cup finalist.

  • Danny Duberstein

    Maurice Jones (Drew),

    This proposal could eliminate one of the great storylines that has weaved its way through playoff hockey: repeated matchups year after year where an underdog beats up on the higher seed!

    Think about it. If we applied this rule retroactively, the epic Stars/Oilers series of years past would never have happened as the Stars, after a couple tough first rounds against the Oil, would surely roll the dice and pick another opponent the third time around even if that team had more points than Edmonton in the season.

    Also, if you want to grow the league in Nashville, Columbus, etc., you can’t be rewarding these teams for their first solid regular season campaign in franchise history with a first round matchup against a top seed who cherry-picks them.

    HAVING SAID THAT, I would be all for this proposal if it means the following could happen: It’s 2045, the Leafs have a competitive team for the first time in 50 years and finish second in the East, but the powerhouse first place Canadiens decide that they want a little excitement so they choose Toronto in round one and knock them out. The Habs then go on to the Cup Final, where they lose in 7 games to the Winnipeg Jets, who are led by a solid defensive effort from captain Chris Chelios. That would be pretty, pretty, good.

  • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com goon

    I don’t know if I agree with you. Who should the Sharks played then? I guess we could alway have the lowest teams in each conference play a best of three game series to determine who is going to play.

  • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com goon

    Or you could have the top two teams in each conference have a bye the first round.

  • Aaron Ingram

    yeah i think Bill Simmons already took this idea for basketball. pg 367 The book of Basketball Dream wish #29

  • Aaron Ingram

    267*

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com ColdHardRanter

    Haven’t read the book.

  • robin

    they should merge the conferences and expand to 24 teams (teams ranked 1-24), give the top 8 teams a bye week (six division leaders and two wild cards), have 3 five game rounds and 7 round semifinals and finals

  • Everett Cantor

    if that were to happen then the divison winner (top 4 teams) would have to be protected so a #1 seeded team can’t pick a #2 or #3 seed etc. because their goalie has an injury or something and they think they can eliminate them…. how about a reward for finishing 1st in the conference and having the #1 seed get a bye first round while the 7 and 8 place teams play a best of 3 “play in game” to see who gets the last playoff spot then the winner faces the #2 seed while 3 plays 6 and 4 vs 5… this also rewards the #2 seed b/c that team would play a tired #7 or #8 seed in the first round and creates a meaningful reg. season as many teams will be fighting to avoid the 7-8 seeed and the top teams will be fightning for the all important 1st round bye and #1 seed and/or atleast the #2 seed knowing that they will face a tired 1st round opponent.

  • http://www.hockeynightonlongisland.com HNLI Alex

    Love the idea of the best team picking their opponent and so on. That would be really cool.

  • Aaron Ingram

    Simmons also added the caveat that the bottom teams all play a minny tourney prior to the start of the playoffs for the 7th and 8th seeds. This would prevent tanking for a better 1st round pick and at the same time can allow a crappy team to pick up momentum/ become a bit of a Cinderella story.

  • Everett Cantor

    but b/4 the playoff format needs to change… the point system has to first…. why should a team thats not playing watch 2 other teams gain points on them I mean if your the Oilers and your watching Cal play Col and the game goes to OT why is it fair that both teams get points its the simplist sales pitch ever… EVERY GAME IS WORTH 3 POINTS 3 point reg. win… 2 for OT win and 1 ot/SO loss…eventually… hopefully this season the last game will cause this rule to change as maybe a team misses the playoffs b/c 2 teams go to OT and advance… I apologize if anybody has discussed any of the topics i’ve mentioned the past 2 days as this is the first time i’ve been on illegalcurve