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Tuesday Editorial: Does Seeding Even Matter?

With the NHL Playoffs less than three months away, the time has come to start seriously evaluating the playoff race. Prior to the NHL lockout, it was fairly easy to predict the majority of the teams that would qualify for the playoffs in the spring. Now, however, with parity becoming the new catch-word in the NHL, it has become almost impossible to predict who are the haves and have not’s going into the stretch drive of the season.

One needs to just take one look at the Western Conference standings to understand this phenomenon. Aside from the Detroit Red Wings, who are sitting atop the Western Conference at 78 points, seeds two through twelve in the conference are separated by a meagre ten points. Think about that for a second; only ten points separate a strong “playoff favourite” from a team that will be hitting the links in mid-April. With seeds two through eight (eight teams make the NHL playoffs in each conference) only separated by five points right now, if the playoffs were to start today, would any match-up constitute an upset? The only team that, in reality, could be upset is the Detroit Red Wings. While the Red Wings have had their fair share of playoff success over the years, they have also had their fair share of disappointments; an upset of this year’s version of the Red Wings wouldn’t be all that shocking.

If you thought the Western Conference was close, the Eastern Conference is separated from seeds one through eight by a total of twelve points. In fact, if the Southeast Division teams continue their embarrassing seasons to date, it appears one team in the Eastern Conference will be left out of the playoff with more points than the three seed (each division winner is guaranteed a spot in the top three of the conference). Aside from the Ottawa Senators, who are actually coming back to the pack, the conference is extremely close. In fact, only five points separate seeds two through eights. Again, this may sound repetitive but, is seed two really any better than seed eight? Not likely. Further, if seeds nine (New York Rangers) and ten (Washington Capitals) miss the eighth seed of the playoffs by a point or two, and the fifth seed by five or six points, are they that much worse than a “favourite” in their conference. I think not; in fact, the playoff team may have gotten an extra bounce or two over the course of the season and that becomes the difference between a successful and disappointing season for the organization and its fan base. It really is such a fine-line.

With all playoff teams so close together in the standings, does seeding really matter? If the third seed has two more points during an 82 game schedule than the sixth seed, does that make the third seed a better team? It most likely does not. Never mind the inception of the shootout, which taints point totals that “teams accumulate” because it really is an individual competition, that is, of course, gone come playoff time. Many readers may be thinking, “But c’mon these teams get home-ice advantage.” While that point is true, how important is a one game home-ice advantage in a seven-game series, in which the teams facing each other are basically equal? It is somewhat important, but that’s only if the series is extended to seven games, and that didn’t happen all that much in the 2007 playoffs. All in all, when two teams face-off in this fall’s playoffs and you hear the word “favourite” being used, take a second to really consider if that “favourite” is really any better than their opponent.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.