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Playoff Picture, Old and New

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:

 

Atlantic Division
Team Record Points
Boston Bruins 47-17-5 99
Montreal Canadiens 38-25-7 83
Tampa Bay Lightning 37-24-7 81

 

Metropolitan Division
Team Record Points
Pittsburgh Penguins 45-19-4 94
Philadelphia Flyers 36-25-7 79
New York Rangers 37-29-4 78

 

Wildcard
Team Record Points
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:

 

Central Division
Team Record Points
St. Louis Blues 47-14-7 101
Colorado Avalanche 44-20-5 93
Chicago Blackhawks 39-15-15 93

 

Pacific Division
Team Record Points
Anaheim Ducks 45-17-7 97
San Jose Sharks 45-18-7 97
Los Angeles Kings 38-25-6 82

 

Wildcard
Team Record Points
Minnesota Wild 36-23-10 82
Phoenix Coyotes 33-25-11 77

 

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:

 

Eastern Conference
Team Record Points
Boston 47-17-5 99
Pittsburgh 45-19-4 94
Tampa Bay 37-24-7 81
Montreal 38-25-7 83
Toronto 36-26-8 80
Philadelphia 36-25-7 79
NY Rangers 37-29-4 78
Washington 33-27-10 76

 

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:

 

Western Conference
Team Record Points
St. Louis 47-14-7 101
Anaheim 45-17-7 97
Colorado 44-20-5 93
San Jose 45-18-7 97
Chicago 39-15-15 93
Los Angeles 38-25-6 82
Minnesota 36-23-10 82
Phoenix 33-25-11 77

 

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?

Pedro Rengel

Pedro Rengel

Originally hailing from the tropical paradise of Venezuela, I moved to Canada at age 11 for the sole reason of falling in love with hockey as a self-proclaimed Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Now a Canadian citizen, my mad love affair with hockey represents a statistical contribution as opposed to an anomaly. Being able to write this well despite having Spanish as a first language is enough of an anomaly (I'm occasionally biased).
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