Rewriting the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Format

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 25: A dejected Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) after Game 7 of the First Round for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 25, 2018, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs 7-4. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    For the 2013-14 season, the NHL implemented a drastic change to the playoff picture. Instead of taking the top eight teams in the conference, they split up into two divisions within each conference.

    Rewriting the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Format

    The system allows for each team to earn the right as best in their division, excluding the Wild Card spots. The only flaw of it, and it is a big one, is that it doesn’t reward the teams that outplayed their opponents in the conference.

    For the most recent example, we’ll look at how this year’s matchups could have gone.

    What It Actually Looked Like

    Everyone knows that the structure looked like the one that follows:

    Atlantic Division

    Tampa Bay Lightning-1 vs. New Jersey Devils-WC2

    Boston Bruins-2 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs-3


    Metropolitan Division

    Washington Capitals-1 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets- WC1

    Pittsburgh Penguins-2 vs. Philadelphia Flyers-3


    Central Division

    Nashville Predators-1 vs. Colorado Avalanche-WC2

    Winnipeg Jets-2 vs. Minnesota Wild-3


    Pacific Division

    Vegas Golden Knights-1 vs. Los Angeles Kings-WC1

    Anaheim Ducks-2 vs. San Jose Sharks-3


    As we saw in all but one first-round matchup, the first or second seed advanced. Then in the second round, again, all but one matchup had the higher seed advancing.

    In the first two rounds, only 2/12 series went to a Game 7. The NHL loves when series go the distance because it boosts ratings and attention, so switching back may help in more than one way.

    Converting back to a one through eight ranking system would reward the teams that performed well all season, while also having a higher chance that cross-divisional rivalries occur in the first two rounds, growing the NHL’s ratings.

    Reverting Back to the Past

    The playoff structure change actually creates a drastic shift in the matchups, excluding the first seed against the second Wild Card. If the teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences were ranked one through eight, the structure would be as follows:

    Eastern Conference

    1 Seed TBL vs. 8 Seed NJD

    2 Seed BOS vs. 7 Seed CBJ

    3 Seed TOR vs. 6 Seed PHI

    4 Seed WAS vs. 5 Seed PIT


    Western Conference

    1 Seed NSH vs. 8 Seed COL

    2 Seed WPG vs. 7 Seed LAK

    3 Seed VGK vs. 6 Seed SJS

    4 Seed MIN vs. 5 Seed ANA

    What Matchups Looked Like This Year

    Based on the “old school” style rankings, this year’s schedule is obviously completely out of order based on season performance. This is what this year’s actual matchups would have appeared as given the ranking style of the past.

    Eastern Conference

    1 Seed TB vs. 8 Seed NJ

    2 Seed BOS vs. 3 Seed TOR


    4 Seed WSH vs. 7 Seed CBJ

    5 Seed PIT vs. 6 Seed PHI


    Western Conference

    1 Seed NSH vs. 8 Seed COL

    2 Seed WPG vs. 4 Seed MIN


    3 Seed VGK vs. 7 Seed LAK

    5 Seed ANA vs. 6 Seed SJS

    Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild were at the wrong end of the deal that was put into place in 2013. Both earned spots in the top four, but because of the system, were forced to give up home-ice advantage. Both teams lost in the first round to teams that had records that would put them in the top four of their respective conferences.

    Meanwhile, the Penguins and Ducks were gifted that home ice despite recording fewer points than the Leafs and Wild in the regular season.

    Second Round

    Assuming all of the top seeds advance in the old structure, the structure would again look completely different than it turned out. Of course, the reality may have been different because the hockey world is imperfect, but that is why we love it. But for the sake of an example, the semi-finals would have looked like this:

    Eastern Conference

    1 Seed TBL vs. 4 Seed WSH

    2 Seed BOS vs. 3 Seed TOR


    Western Conference

    1 Seed NSH vs. 4 Seed MIN

    2 Seed WPG vs. 3 Seed VGK

    Each matchup, except from the Nashville vs. Minnesota series has or is happening, but the outcomes could have totally changed. Boston could have waited an extra round to face the Maple Leafs, Toronto could have won at least one series with their young guns, and Nashville may have found themselves in the Conference Finals for two consecutive years.

    Instead, the top two seeds in both the Eastern and Western Conference faced off in the second round, making it much more possible for a lower seed to reach the Conference Final after winning their second round series.

    Time to Change Back?

    All of this is hypothetical, but the old system rewarded the teams that put in the work all year. Teams have found that with the Wild Card opportunity, they could put their team in a weak division and try to make an easier run to the Conference Finals.

    The old system creates rivalries within the entire conference, not just within the division, and makes the end goal of the regular season to do as well as possible.

    Main Image Credit:


    1. While there are a number of years that show a problem with the playoff format, I don’t think this one does you any favors.

      3 division winners, and the team with the 2nd most points in the entire NHL are in your final 4. That seems to mean the playoff format works.


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