The NHL’s current playoff format is reportedly sticking around, at least for one more season.
According to a report from Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to extend the format, as well as the current divisional alignment, for one more year. Even though it will continue to be a talking point, the earliest possible change to the format will not be until the 2020-21 season, if one even happens.
The NHL has used the current divisional format since the 2013-14 season.
It is set up so the top-three teams in each division are automatically in the playoffs, while the remaining two spots in each conference are Wild Card teams. The division winners play the Wild Card teams in Round 1, while the second and third place teams face each other.
It is a format designed to create and focus on rivalries, which it absolutely does and has given us some amazing early round matchups in recent years.
Critics of the format, however, don’t like that it can often times guarantee that a top-team in the league gets eliminated in the first-or second-round depending on the strength of the division the play in.
Last year, for example, Nashville and Winnipeg, the teams with the two best records in the league, ended up meeting in Round 2. It was a similar story the year before when Pittsburgh and Washington met in the second round.
This year, Boston and Toronto (the third and fifth best records at the moment) are slated to meet in Round 1, with the winner possibly having to play Tampa Bay (the best team in the league) in round two if it wins its first round series.
Lightning forward Steven Stamkos was one of the players that recently questioned the format.
“It is what it is,” said Stamkos, via TSN. “It has been that way for a while now. You’re going to have to beat the best teams to win anyways whether it’s the first round or the conference finals. I understand where they’re coming from from a marketing perspective, wanting to get some rivalries early on, but I think from a perspective of what you’re grinding 82 games for during a season is to finish as high as you can so you can have that advantage come playoffs.”
“I don’t think that’s an advantage to Toronto or Boston to be, what could be the top three teams in the whole league from one division, and then to have to play that team in the first round. I don’t think that’s right, and saying that you saw what [Pittsburgh] and [Washington] had to deal with for the last couple years. It is what it is. You can’t change it now, but I don’t think it’s the most fair in terms of why you play and the advantage you’re supposed to have come playoff time.”
It might not be ideal to have a top team go out early, but there are some fantastic possibilities for Round 1 matchups this season (Boston-Toronto is a given, as is San Jose-Vegas, and both should be amazing; Nashville-Winnipeg is also possibility) that are going to be incredible to watch.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.