One story I’ve been monitoring since the National Hockey League adopted a division-based playoff format at the onset of the 2013-14 regular season is how divisional imbalance influences playoff races.
There were a few reasons for realignment, but the league’s primary bet was that creating heavy emphasis on divisional hockey would further some of the sport’s better rivalries, draw more viewers and create a more compelling postseason.
I have long been a skeptic of the NHL’s rivalry-based approach – I would argue that the majority of rivalries are borne out of competitive playoff hockey and exceptional on-ice play, less so the fact that the two teams are within geographic proximity of one another.
But for those who have been disappointed with the realignment era of playoff hockey, it’s a lesser concern. The more distressing point has centered on the league’s implied bet that parity would exist at a division level (versus a conference level previously), and the league’s trigger to automatically give 12 of 16 playoff bids to teams merely based on divisional placement.
But divisional parity has never been realized since the introduction of the new playoff format, and that’s true again this regular season.
The most obvious example of imbalance this year is in relation to the Metropolitan Division, which is uniquely stacked with contenders. By quick example: the Philadelphia Flyers, in fourth place with 49 points in 39 games, would be sitting second in the Atlantic and first in the Pacific.