In the Eastern Conference, you could make a fair argument that having the seventh or sixth seed is preferable to the fifth seed because the eventual Northeast and Southeast Division winners will almost certainly have an inferior record to the fourth seed team. In the Western Conference, the sixth seed Chicago Blackhawks might be better off taking on the third seed Pacific Division winner than grabbing the fifth seed and being forced to play against Nashville or Detroit.
It raises the question: Does the current seeding format need tweaking?
“I hope they do evaluate it because it’s antiquated,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said.
The idea behind the current system, where each division winner is guaranteed a top-three position, is to encourage rivalries and also cater to the league’s unbalanced schedule. The flipside is the third seed team can be inferior to the fourth seed, or worse. In 2007-08, the Washington Capitals won the Southeast Division with 94 points, which is also what the eighth place Boston Bruins got.
“I think it’s easy to pick apart the system this year because we have four teams in the division this year that are doing really well,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “There’s a reason why that rule’s in place. I mean yeah, it’s been talked about this year where maybe the division winner automatically makes the playoffs but you seed them where they’d be seeded, so Florida would be eighth or seventh, same with Boston.”
A system like that might be fairer, but by reducing the importance of winning the division, you risk taking away some of the drama associated with the final days of the regular season. The Detroit Red Wings stand to lose in the current system, but Red Wings GM Ken Holland spoke out in support of the current system.
“If you’re going to have divisions, you have to reward the division winners with something and right now that’s a top-three seed,” Holland said. “We all play different schedules. Some might have five good teams in their division, some three. But at the end of the day, there’s so much parity in the league.”
Of course, if the system does need tweaking, now is the time to do it. The current CBA is set to expire before the start of the 2012-13 campaign and they need to realign anyways so that the Winnipeg Jets are moved out of the Southeast Division. The NHL already tried to go with their four conference system, but the NHLPA ultimately rejected it.