Long has been the talk of how ridiculous the NHL’s final standings alignment is, in awarding the top three places to each of the three division winners. Naturally, the number one spot is always deserving, but sometimes two and three are in a higher place as a mere formality and not because they actually deserve it. In most seasons, usually it is the number three seed that can be called into question, but this year, we have a complete mess from top to bottom, with teams jumbled all over the place. The guilty conference is the East, more so than the West, that only has one team, the Phoenix Coyotes, out of place in that infamous three seed. We can always find a way to live with one team sneaking into a place they don’t belong, but how about when two of the top three teams don’t belong? The following is a look at the final standings for the Eastern Conference:
The match-up that can really be called into question is the Florida Panthers (3) vs. the New Jersey Devils (6), a team that barely sneaked into the playoffs, let alone with their division, which happened on the final day of the regular season. The Devils, though three spots below, have eight more points and an astonishing 10 more wins. Let me say that again: 10 more wins! Yet they are not the team with home ice advantage! Should the Devils beat the Panthers in this opening bout, it will technically read as an upset and be handed down into posterity as such, but would it not be more of an upset if the Panthers beat them? After all, it is they who are the weakest out of the two. Now let’s take a look at what the standings would be like if we got rid of the division-winner point system:
1. New York Rangers (109)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (108)
3. Philadelphia Flyers (103)
4. Boston Bruins (102; based on more-wins tiebreaker with N.J)
5. New Jersey Devils (102)
6. Florida Panthers (94)
7. Washington Capitals (92; based on more-wins tiebreaker with OTT)
8. Ottawa Senators (92)
Wow, how radically different everything looks now. The Atlantic Division, which some call the toughest division in hockey and I think is the most entertaining, now holds the top three spots, with four out of the top five teams. The Rangers and Senators would still face off, and the Devils would still not get home-ice advantage, but at least in this matchup against an actually superior Boston team, they would not deserve it anyway. We now also have the chance of the Flyers and Penguins (two entertaining moneymakers for the league) to both advance to the second round, as opposed to the guarantee that one will be eliminated in the four/five matchup we currently have. Even though I despise Pittsburgh, they busted their butts all season and achieved the second best record in the East with all those injuries, and their reward is to face the Flyers, a team that will pound them into the dust, even if they do not win. Does not sound too sexy to me!
There really is no reason for the top-three factor in the NHL today aside from assuring that every division gets a piece of the pie—gee, even though this is professional sports, we would not want anyone to feel left out! The standings should be determined like every other sport: the best teams get in, and their order is by best records, not a predetermined set-up. We know the NHL wants parity in the standings so playoff clinches come down to the last day and everyone is glued to the TV so they can make a profit, but changing this around really would not affect that. People have always called out this system since day one, but now we finally have a prime example of it truly not working, not just a few fans bickering because their team got ousted.
When the new standings alignment was proposed a few months ago, I did not like it, and I still don’t because of there only being four divisions. But at least in that setup, the best teams got in, and in that order. However, there is a reason why it was voted down and we will still have to put up with this for yet another season, that is, if there is another season. I can feel it in my bones, like many others, that thanks to stupid things like this and a myriad of other reasons, we may be staring another lockout in the face in the coming year or two.