Rick Zamperin: The NHL should tweak its playoff format

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler (26) and Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg (9), battle for the puck.
Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler (26) and Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg (9), battle for the puck. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

It’s a question that comes up every so often, but quite frankly, there isn’t a perfect answer.

Does the National Hockey League’s playoff format need to be tweaked?

The same question has been asked by fans, the media, and even league officials in Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, CFL, etc.

But again, no matter what each league does, not everyone is going to be happy.

Let us take this year’s impending playoffs in the NHL as an example.

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Only one of Tampa Bay, Boston or Toronto will be able to advance to the Eastern Conference Final even though they have more points than any other club in the conference entering play Monday.

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Nashville and Winnipeg — the top two outfits in the West — will most likely meet in the second round, meaning three of the top teams in the NHL will be ousted well before the Stanley Cup is handed out.

Now, you can say that if they don’t win their respective series, they don’t deserve to be in the final. And that is true.

But why are the best teams squaring off in the second round of the playoffs? Well, it’s because they reside in the same division.

The easiest way to change this doesn’t require the NHL to get rid of the current division alignment or even the two wild-card playoff spots in each conference.

One option that should be considered is re-seeding the playoff teams, No. 1 to No. 8.

If the season ended Monday, under this proposal, the opening round matchups would look like this:

East – Tampa Bay vs. New Jersey; Boston vs. Philadelphia; Toronto vs. Columbus; Washington vs. Pittsburgh.

West – Nashville vs. St. Louis; Winnipeg vs. Colorado; Vegas vs. Anaheim; San Jose vs. Minnesota.

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Even more ambitious (although the NHL would never go for this) is to have the top 16 teams, regardless of division or conference, be seeded No. 1 through No. 16.

Entering Monday, those playoff matchups would be:

Nashville vs. Philadephia; Tampa Bay vs. Columbus; Boston vs. Los Angeles; Winnipeg vs. St. Louis; Vegas vs. Colorado; Toronto vs. Anaheim; Washington vs. Pittsburgh; San Jose vs. Minnesota.

Whether the league changes anything, or not, fans in a few markets will be complaining about the playoff format this spring.

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