With less than a month before the start of the postseason, the NHL has a bit of a mess on its hands. The league’s playoff format has come under fire; one player flat out called the format “stupid”, and plenty of others are criticizing it in only slightly softer terms.
So what exactly is the problem? How did we get here? And do the critics have a point? Let’s break out our handy Q&A format to get to the bottom of this.
So what’s the hockey world complaining about now?
Who says we’re complaining? We’re all busy enjoying the very best time of year for hockey fans, as the race to the regular season finish line gives way to the frantic first round of the … OK, fine, we’re complaining. But for once, we have a good reason: the playoff format being completely and irrevocably screwed up.
That sounds bad. What’s the issue?
The current format is a little complicated, probably more so than it needs to be. But basically, the top three teams in each of the league’s four divisions earn a playoff spot. That leaves four slots open, and those are filled by the two best remaining teams in each conference. Those are the wildcards, and they can come from any division.
Once they’re in, those wildcards get the bottom two seeds and face the two division winners; the best division winner gets the worst wildcard team, while the other division winner gets the other wildcard. Meanwhile, the second and third place teams in each division play each other.
That seems… fine?
For the most part, it is. You can get into weird situations where wildcard teams crossover to the wrong division, which is kind of confusing. But generally, the current system works well enough.
Um, just as long as one division in a conference isn’t way better than the other one. Then everything goes to hell.