As the snow begins to melt, streams begin to swell; it’s a sign of the times: spring is coming. Along with spring, though, comes the best time for sports fans: March Madness if you’re a basketball fan; baseball season begins, if you’re into that; but most relevant to us right now, Stanley Cup playoffs. Let me be the first to give you an article on “if the playoffs started today,” but with a twist.
In addition to showing you what the playoff picture would look like if the season were to end after the games taking place on March 18th, I will also show you what the playoff picture would look like had there not been realignment. Let’s go for a wild ride, shall we?
Before I begin, let me explain the “wildcard” format this year has: no longer does the simplicity of first seed playing last, second playing seventh, third playing sixth, and fourth playing fifth apply. Instead, it’s a wee bit more complicated. Stay with me as I explain:
The division leader with the highest points plays the wildcard team with the fewest points. The division leader with the lowest points plays the wildcard team with the highest points. Second- and third- place teams in each division play each other.
Confused? Allow me to show you with the current standings in the East:
|Tampa Bay Lightning||37-24-7||81|
|New York Rangers||37-29-4||78|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||36-26-8||80|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||35-27-6||76|
Under this format, the Boston Bruins would play the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pittsburgh Penguins would face the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens would tangle with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Philadelphia Flyers against the New York Rangers. Here’s what things would look like in the West:
|St. Louis Blues||47-14-7||101|
|San Jose Sharks||45-18-7||97|
|Los Angeles Kings||38-25-6||82|
The St. Louis Blues would play the Phoenix Coyotes, the Anaheim Ducks would get the Minnesota Wild, the Colorado Avalanche against the Chicago Blackhawks, and the San Jose Sharks against the Los Angeles Kings.
Now these sound like exciting match-ups as it is, but only under the current system: if you look at the standings if there had been no realignment; here’s what the playoff picture would look like in the East, keeping in mind that the division leaders were automatically given the top three seeds, and that the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets played in the Western Conference while the Winnipeg Jets played in the East:
Under these circumstances, Boston would play Washington, Pittsburgh against the Rangers, Tampa Bay against Philadelphia, and perennial rivals Toronto and Montreal would clash. In the West:
St. Louis would still play Phoenix, Anaheim would still play Minnesota, Colorado would swap with San Jose, as they would play LA, leaving Chicago to the Sharks. Here’s a side-by-side comparison, with teams that would make the playoffs playing under the old system in boldface, and those who wouldn’t make it underlined:
|Current System (Wildcard)||Old System (Seeding)|
|Boston – Columbus||Boston – Washington|
|Pittsburgh – Toronto||Pittsburgh – New York Rangers|
|Montreal – Tampa Bay||Tampa Bay – Philadelphia|
|Philadelphia – New York Rangers||Montreal – Toronto|
|St. Louis – Phoenix||St. Louis – Phoenix|
|Anaheim – Minnesota||Anaheim – Minnesota|
|Colorado – Chicago||Colorado – Los Angeles|
|San Jose – Los Angeles||San Jose – Chicago|
It looks like those teams that were left in the East were right to worry, since the standings, and subsequently, the playoff picture in the West remain largely unchanged, while the seeding changes dramatically in the East, giving Toronto a significantly tougher (though less iconic) first round against Pittsburgh, and giving a team with otherwise little chance in the West (Columbus) to make it in the East at the expense of Washington.
What do you think? Was the old system perfect? Or is the new system a needed refresh in the league?