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Monday Musings: Playoffs

Thinking

Last Monday the Oilers were nine points up on ninth place Los Angeles and the Kings had a game in hand. Today, they are ten points ahead of the Kings and both have 17 games remaining. The playoffs are coming, and after a decade outside the dance, it is time we look at what some young Oilersnation readers might have thought was only a myth, this wondrous entity called the postseason. 

The NHL has changed playoff formats regularly over the past decades. Relocation, expansion, lockouts and other factors have all played a part as we’ve witnessed numerous changes over the years.

The mainstay has been that 16 teams qualify.

In 1979/1980 the NHL expanded to 21 teams and the playoffs grew to 16 teams. Back then, the #1 seed played #16, #2 played #15 and so on. The first round was a best of five.

In the second round and on it was a best of seven, with the highest seed playing the lowest remaining seed and so on.

That lasted two seasons.

In 1981/1982 they went to the top four teams in each of the four divisions — Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe. #1 played #4 and #2 played #3 in each division, and the first round was still a best of five. The second round had the two remaining teams in each division play one another, and then the Conference Finals had the Adams versus the Patrick and the Smythe versus Norris.

In 1986/1987 every series became a best of seven.

In 1993/1994 the NHL playoffs became conference based, with two divisions in each conference and the top eight in the East and West qualifying for the playoffs regardless. The division winners were the top two seeds and the remaining six had the most points regardless of which division they played in.

In 1998/1999 the two conferences were split into three divisions. The division winners were seeded #1-#2 based on points and the remaining five spots in each conference were filled by teams with the next five highest point totals.

In 2013/2014 they went back to two divisions within each conference. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets moved to the East, while the Winnipeg Jets moved to the West. Now the top three teams in each division were seeded and the two remaining spots were filled by teams with the most points.

ONE CHANGE

I like the four division, two conference set up, however, I would like to see one small change.

If four teams from the Central and four from the Pacific make the playoffs, I would prefer there is no cross over. I’d rather see divisional battles, rather than have the lowest wildcard team cross over to the other division.

I don’t see the need to have cross overs if we see four teams from each division. Obviously, I understand why it occurs when we have five teams from the Central and three from the Pacific, which has happened all three years since the new format was introduced.

If you want to build division rivalries then a small tweak to the wording of the rule would ensure we see divisional battles when he have four teams from both divisions.

It also could make a big difference travel-wise for western division teams.

For instance, If San Jose finished first in the west, and St.Louis was eighth, one point behind of Anaheim, the Sharks would have to travel to St.Louis in the first round, and the Central winner would travel to and from Anaheim.

Why punish the top seeds by making them travel more?

This isn’t much of an issue in the Eastern conference, because they are all in the same time zone, but it could still add needless extra travel.

Rivalries are built in the playoffs, and I’d love to see the NHL make one small tweak to their playoff format. We’d only see crossovers when the two wildcard teams come from the same division.

QUICK HITS

Ali

  • Many wondered if the Oilers would surpass the rookie bonus overages. Connor McDavid will hit all his bonuses and max out at $2.85 million. He’s already hit all four “A” bonuses, and he’s guaranteed to finish top-ten in points-per-game, so he’ll hit his $2 million “B” bonus.Leon Draisaitl will hit all four of his “A” bonuses, but he needs to finish top-ten in points, goals, assists, points-per-game (minimum 42 GP) or finish top-five in voting for the Hart or Selke. He is 23rd in points, eight back of 10th place and he is now five goals out of 10th. It will be very difficult for him to leap frog that many players in the final 17 games so it is unlikely he hits his “B” bonus and the Oilers won’t have any bonus overages.Keep in mind teams can go over the salary cap using LTIR, but you can’t exceed the cap with bonus overages. If they went over the cap, then they would be penalized next season. If they went over by $100,000 this year, then they would have a $100,000 penalty next year, but unless Draisaitl goes on a scoring spree it looks unlikely the Oilers will have any bonuses overages. Since they aren’t at the cap, bonus overages wouldn’t impact them this season anyways.
  • Darnell Nurse, Drake Caggiula, Jesse Puljujarvi and Anton Slepshev are not on pace to reach any of their bonuses. Matt Benning could reach one of his $212,500 bonuses. He needs to finish top-three in +/- among defenders (minimum 42 GP). Benning is currently fourth among Oilers defenders at +3. Andrej Sekera is third at +5. Oscar Klefbom is second at +10. It looks like Benning will need to finish ahead of Sekera to reach his bonus.
  • Montreal, Edmonton, Ottawa and Calgary are virtual locks to make the playoffs. The Maple Leafs are one point behind the Islanders for the second wildcard spot in the East, while the Jets are three back of the Blues for the final wildcard berth with Los Angeles sandwiched between them.After seeing no Canadian teams make the playoffs this year, we are guaranteed to have four and we could have as many as six.
  • After winning 16 games in a row, the Blue Jackets are 13-13-2 in their most recent 28. When teams go on a great run, it is very difficult to maintain it over the long haul, unless you are a truly dominant team. Outside of Washington, and that is a maybe, I’m not sure the NHL has a truly dominant team. The Blackhawks are 12-1-0 since February 1st (their only loss was a 3-1 defeat to the Oilers), while the Flames are 11-2-1 since the start of February.I see a lot of concern within Oilersnation about the Flames catching them. It might happen, but if the Oilers win their game in hand tomorrow against the Islanders they are still four points up with 16 games to go.Very few teams can remain as hot as the Flames and Hawks have been over a two-month period. They are hot right now, but to remain this hot you need to be dominant, and I’m not sold the NHL has teams like that, even with all the Stanley Cup experience within the Hawks lineup.
  • Kris Russell was back on the ice today and skated with Andrej Sekera. Benoit Pouliot skated, but he wasn’t in a regular line rotation yet. No official word on a return date for him, but he won’t play tomorrow.
  • Anton Lander continues to shred the AHL. He has 21-21-42 in 25 AHL games. Chris Terry is 2nd in AHL scoring with 22-30-52 in 41 games. Kenny Agostino leads the league with 21-48-69 in 53 games. Lander would be leading the league if he’d played there all season. He turns 26 in April. He his an RFA next season. I wonder if Las Vegas looks at him? If given PP time he could help an expansion team. The Oilers have more skilled forwards, but I’m not sold Las Vegas will next year.Vegas could sign him to a contract since they have the ability to negotiate with RFA and UFAs before the rest of the NHL. If they sign him, then Edmonton wouldn’t lose anyone else. So they might not do it before, because they’d rather take Griffin Reinhart, for instance, but it is an option.If he can get a bit quicker in the off-season, I think he can play regularly in the NHL. The only thing holding him back is his skating.

    Lander still believes he can play in the NHL. He is using his time in the AHL to ensure other teams see what he is doing. Good on him.