With the post-season almost upon us, ’tis the season for the annual playoff format debate.
“There’s some debate about how long the current divisional playoff format will last, and there were discussions on Friday between the NHL and the NHLPA about extending the current format for next season,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said during Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “There still is an agreement in place, they’re going to speak again next week, and it does sound like that will probably be done on a one-year basis.”
The current bracket-based playoff format, which tasks top teams with getting out of their division (thus encouraging more divisional rivalries) came into effect in the 2013-14 season. Prior to that, the format was simply conference-based, pitting the top team in the conference against the eighth seed, the second against the seventh, and so on.
One look at the Atlantic Division shows why the format could be seen as flawed. Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto are currently in the top five of the league’s standings and top three in the Eastern Conference, yet it seems inevitable that the Bruins and Maple Leafs will be forced to play one another once again instead of facing a lower-seeded opponent outside the division.
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos used those two clubs as an example when he questioned the fairness of today’s format during a media availability earlier this month.