The best not rewarded in NHL’s playoff system

The best not rewarded in NHL’s playoff system
If you think the NHL’s points system — where some games are worth three points and others two — is wonky, then you can’t possibly be a fan of the NHL’s playoff system.

If the playoffs started based on the standings through Sunday’s games, two of the NHL’s best four teams would face each other in the first round: Columbus with 100 points, and Pittsburgh with 99.

And the way things are set up, the league is guaranteeing two of the best four teams will be eliminated by the end of second round: the loser of Pittsburgh-Columbus and of the following Metropolitan Division series between the winner of those two teams and, presumably, Washington, another 100-point team.

Just for good measure, the New York Rangers, the first wild card with 93 points, would start on the road against the Montreal Canadiens, with 90 points. And if they won that, they’d continue on the road against the winner of Ottawa-Boston, both of whom also have fewer points.

Now, there’s never any guarantee the team with more points will beat the team with the fewer. But this system actively eliminates teams with a lot of points.

“It’s stupid,” former Leaf Daniel Winnik, now with the Washington Capitals, told the Washington Post on Monday. “It’s the stupidest thing ever.”

And it’s not just this year. Last year, the Presidents’ Trophy-winner Capitals (120 points) faced the second-best team in the East, Pittsburgh (104 points), in the second round. And Tampa, with 97 points, had home ice against the New York Islanders, with 100, in the second round.

The NHL went to divisional playoffs, abandoning the more familiar one-through-eight conference seedings, in the name of developing rivalries. Washington and Pittsburgh aren’t supposed to meet in a conference final.

But the league manages to shoot itself in the foot in this regard as well, because of the way it treats wild-card teams. If the Maple Leafs make the playoffs, they will do so as the weaker wild card and face the strongest team, Washington, meaning they would switch divisions.

If the NHL truly cared about divisional rivalries, they would leave the wild-card teams in their own division, unless one division produced both wild cards. That way, this year at least, the Leafs might actually play the Canadiens in the playoffs, something hasn’t happened since 1979.

The deal the NHL has in place regarding the playoff format with the NHL Players’ Association lasts until the 2018-19 season. It can be revisited at any time, although it’s not likely to be.

“There really hasn’t been a lot of discussion on the playoff format internally,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “Not a single GM requested that it be added to the GM meetings agenda and it was not discussed.

“It’s not a burning topic for us.”

CLAUDE HOPPER: Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron says the stakes would be much higher if Boston and Montreal met in the playoffs, pitting the team Claude Julien started behind the bench this season with against the team he’s currently coaching. “It would be kind of surreal almost, because he was with us half the year,” Bergeron said. “The rivalry with Montreal is always something special but, with Claude being there, it would add to it. He knows our secrets, but we know how he coaches. It works both ways.”

NEW JACKETS: The Columbus Blue Jackets reached 100 points over the weekend, clinching the franchise’s third post-season appearance. “It’s a great feeling, and it’s well-deserved,” left winger Matt Calvert, the longest-tenured Blue Jackets player, told the Columbus Dispatch. “Guys have worked hard all year . . . It’s just the start of things for us, the start of our new road. We have to finish off the regular season hard and get ready for the playoffs.”

BERNIER HEATS UP: It’s good news for the Maple Leafs that Jonathan Bernier is playing so well for the Anaheim Ducks. Since being pulled from a Feb. 20 start at Arizona, Bernier is 7-2-1 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. If he plays half the Ducks’ playoff games, and the Ducks make it to the final, the Leafs will get Anaheim’s third-round pick. If he plays half the playoffs and the Ducks with the Stanley Cup, it becomes a second-round pick.

TO THE POINT: Bereft of centres, the Tampa Bay Lightning remained alive in the playoff hunt on the strength of rookie Brayden Point, who took over the top line. “On the talent side of things, he’s probably where we thought he might end up, just he’s done it way faster than we could have imagined,” said coach Jon Cooper. “But that has been pushed along because of all the centres we lost.” Point has 12 goals and 17 assists for Tampa Bay.

PLAYOFF STREAKS: The Penguins should be in the post-season for the 11th straight season. That will be the longest active streak if Detroit’s 25-season run comes to an end . . . The Edmonton Oilers seem poised to end their post-season appearance drought at 10 seasons. Carolina, heading toward an eighth straight post-season miss, would assume the unwanted mantle for consecutive disappointing seasons.

STATS: Ryan Getzlaf has 800 points in 12 seasons with the Ducks. Only Teemu Selanne, with 988, has more . . . The Flames signed London Knights goalie Tyler Parsons, the hero for the U.S. at the world junior tournament, to a three-year, entry-level contract . . . Blue Jackets rookie defenceman Zach Werenski has 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in the past 16 games.
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