When you look at this year’s playoffs, the Washington Capitals were in the same bracket as the Penguins and Rangers. Under the old format, the Capitals would have played Tampa in the second round because Tampa was the lowest remaining Seed to emerge from the first round. instead, with this new bracket system, Washington had to play the second best team in the whole conference and the hottest team in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the second round because they were in the same bracket as Pittsburgh.
Under the old format, if everything played out like it should have, Pittsburgh/Washington, the marquee match up that hockey fans wanted to see, would have been the Conference Final match up. Under this new bracket format, Pittsburgh and Washington played in the second round instead. So instead of the Conference Final pitting the two best teams in the Conference, you had a watered down Conference Final with Pittsburgh playing Tampa Bay. How the NHL can look at this playoff format and say it works is beyond belief. They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Well, this is broken.
The same thing happened in the West. Saint Louis and Chicago were the second and third best teams in the Western Conference. Under the old format, they would have played no earlier than the second round of the playoffs. Which makes sense because you don’t want the best teams in the conference playing each other until the later rounds of the playoffs. Under the old format, Saint Louis would have played Nashville, the seventh best team in the conference in the first round, and the Blackhawks would have played the San Jose Sharks, the sixth best team in the conference. if things went scratch, Saint Louis beats Nashville and Chicago beats San Jose, the Blackhawks and Blues play in the second round instead of the first.
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But, under this new format, with the second and third place teams in each division playing each other, the second and third best teams in the western conference played each other in the first round of the playoffs. As a result, no matter what the result was, one of the best teams in hockey was going to be out in the first round. Again, to have a team as good as the Blackhawks out in the first round doesn’t make a lot of sense. To make matters even worse, after the Blues beat the Blackhawks, instead of playing the second lowest remaining seed left in the Western Conference, they played the number one seed in the Conference, the Dallas Stars in the second round because again those two teams were in the same bracket. So you had the top two seeds in the Conference, Dallas and Saint Louis, playing in the second round of the playoffs instead of the Conference Finals. And in the other Conference semifinal you had the sixth and seventh best teams in the Conference, San Jose and Nashville facing off against each other. Compare that to what the second round match ups would have been under the old format.
Under the old format, you would have had Saint Louis and Chicago, the second and third best teams in the Conference, in one Semi Final and Dallas and Anaheim, one and four, in the other semi final. That set up would have allowed for the possibility of the two best teams in the Conference, Dallas and Saint Louis, to play in the Conference Finals instead of the second round. And once again, as a result of this new format, you had a watered down conference final with Saint Louis playing San Jose instead of Dallas.
The NHL says the change in format was done to bolster rivalries. Well lets take a look at the first round matchups in the new format as opposed to the old one. in the East, under the current format, the matchups were Capitals/Flyers, Rangers/Penguins, Red Wings/Lighting and Panthers/Islanders. In the West, Stars/Wild, Blues/Blackhawks, Ducks/Predators, and Kings/Sharks. Under the old format, East; Washington/Detroit, Penguins/Flyers, Panthers/Lighting, and Rangers/Islanders. In the West, Stars/Wild, Blues/Predators, Blackhawks/Sharks and Kings and Ducks.
So when you count how many natural rivals are playing each other under each format, under both the old and new format you have four natural rivals playing each other. So it is hard for the NHL to make the case that this new set up gives rival teams a better chance of meeting each other in the playoffs, And if anything, the matchups under the old format are more attractive than the ones under the new one. i would be willing to bet that a lot more fans would want to see the Flyers play the Penguins in the first round instead of Washington and would rather see the two New York teams square off in the first round of the playoffs instead of watching the Rangers play the Penguins. And you would also have an all Florida match up under the old format instead of the Panthers playing the Islanders in the first round. And in the West, a Kings/Ducks match up is lot more appealing because of the proximity of the two cities than a Kings/Sharks match up. And Saint Louis and Nashville are a lot closer to each other and is more of a geographical rivalry than Nashville and Anaheim.
So with everything i laid out, there isn’t one reason to stick to this new playoff format. And the NHL had to study how this format would play out in the playoffs. They had to realize that as a result of this new format, good teams would be eliminated in the early rounds of the playoffs while inferior teams would advance. So why decide to go forward with it? As is the case with everything in today’s sports world and especially when it comes to Gary Bettman, it all comes down to money.
Soon after the new playoff format was announced, the NHL introduced the Bracket Challenge to fans. It is basically the same exact thing as filling out an NCAA Basketball pool but with the 16 NHL playoff teams instead. The only way this can work is if all the teams stay in the same bracket while advancing through the playoffs. You can’t fill out a bracket if teams get re seeded after every round. So in the one bracket, you have Flyers/Washington in the other you have, Rangers/Penguins. So when a fan is filling out a bracket, if he picks the Capitals to beat the Flyers, they move in to the next bracket. In the opposite bracket, the fan picks the Penguins to beat the Rangers, so the Penguins move in to the Bracket opposite of the Capitals and that is your second round matchup. And of course if one wants to participate in the Bracket Challenge, you can but, for a small fee of course. This is the only possible explanation as to why the NHL would allow such an unbelievably flawed playoff format to exist. I have no way of proving this and nobody in the league has come out and said it but, it is the only possible explanation for it. And when you have a commissioner like Gary Bettman who is always out for the money grab, the 500 million dollars the league got for Las Vegas joining the league being another example of this, it makes it that much easier to believe that the only real reason for this change in playoff format was for money.
This is an absolute disgrace. Everyone is in this to make money. i am not going to be so naive as to think otherwise. But, when you place making money ahead of the integrity of the game, it’s disgusting. What is more important? Making a few extra bucks, or finding the best possible way of crowning a league champion? What’s amazing is that you haven’t had more of an outcry from fans of the game. I don’t know if it is a case of them not realizing what is going on or if they just don’t care. Either way, attention needs to be brought to it because it is an absolute joke of a system that desperately needs to be fixed. The Bracket Challenge can’t be making that much more extra money to warrant having such a flawed playoff system in place. Gary Bettman,for once in your tenure as commissioner, do the right thing and put the integrity of the game ahead of the almighty buck and scrap this joke of a playoff format.