By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The inherent imbalance of the NHL’s playoff format has been criticized quite a bit in Atlantic Division cities in recent weeks. Those complaints, though, aren’t leading to any changes.
Pierre LeBrun reported Wednesday that the NHL and NHLPA agreed to keep the current division structures and playoff format for at least one more season.
The NHL and the NHLPA have agreed to a one-year extension of the current divisional alignment and playoff format. The matter will continue to be discussed between the two sides moving forward. So earliest change would be for 2020-21 if/when there is change.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 3, 2019
Complaints about the format — which separates playoff teams by division, save for the sorting of the two wild-card teams — are nothing new but have been spotlighted this year in the Atlantic, where three of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference reside. As a result, the Bruins will be facing the Maple Leafs in the first round, and if the Lightning advance past the first round, they will have to face either the second-best or fourth-best team in the conference during a second-round series.
Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos said “I don’t think it’s right” when discussing the format in March, while Maple Leafs star John Tavares said the format was “odd” and “unusual.” Bruins star Brad Marchand said “I don’t think it’s fair … that one would finish second and have to play a third- or fourth-place team compared to a seventh-place team.”
“From a perspective of what you’re grinding 82 games for during a season is to finish as high as you can so you can have that advantage come playoffs,” Stamkos expounded. “I don’t think that’s an advantage to Toronto or Boston to be what could be the top three teams in the whole league in one division and then have to play that team in the first round. I don’t think that’s right. … It is what it is. You can’t change it now, but I don’t think it’s the most fair in terms of why you play and the advantage you’re supposed to have come playoff time.”
To be clear, this year’s teams atop the Atlantic are not the first teams to get an unfair shake from the league’s playoff format, which was instituted for the 2013-14 season. And all of the aforementioned players noted that if a team wants to win the Stanley Cup, it must beat good teams along the way.
That being said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement on a system that has some built-in inequities that are a near-certainty to rear their heads every year. That improvement will have to wait at least one more year.
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