WWYDW: Issues with the playoffs

With tonight’s Game 7 between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals, the first round of the NHL’s playoffs will come to an end. It’s been a wild one, to say the least.

The first round has been loaded with upsets, highlighted by a shocking four-game sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning by the Columbus Blue Jackets, a five-game thumping of the first-in-the-West Calgary Flames by the Colorado Avalanche. But beyond the exciting and shocking first-round upsets, which are a feather in Gary Bettman’s hat when it comes to creating parity, the playoffs thus far haven’t been without controversy.

First, there was the seeding. Before the playoffs even started many fans complained about the NHL’s seeding format, which actively tries to force divisional rivalries. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins, the league’s third- and seventh-ranked teams, met in the first round. The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, who both finished behind the Bruins, got to play teams ranked lower in the league standings than Boston did. With this format, teams from a weaker division have a much easier path through the playoffs than teams from a strong division. 

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After that, reffing has also been a hot topic. Most notably, the Vegas Golden Knights had a 3-0 lead in last night’s Game 7 with the San Jose Sharks. Cody Eakin received a five-minute penalty for apparently cross-checking Joe Pavelski in the head, and the Sharks scored four goals on the subsequent advantage. Many are suggesting that a penalty like that should be reviewed, because, if it was, surely Eakin wouldn’t have been handed a five-minute major and the Golden Knights would be moving on to the second round.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. How would you fix the NHL playoffs? Do you think they’re broken? Does the seeding format need to be changed? Should the league implement more reviews for referees? Or does it just complicate an already-difficult job?

On the format… 

Personally, I don’t hate the way the format is now. The goal is to create divisional rivalries like ones the NHL used to have and this format has accomplished exactly that. Forcing Toronto and Boston to meet in the first round each year fuels an interesting rivalry. Same with Vegas and San Jose.

Besides, as we saw with Calgary and Tampa Bay, anybody can beat anybody. There’s no guarantee that facing an easier opponent in the first round rather than a strong divisional opponent guarantees a victory. From the perspective of Toronto, had the league gone with the standard top to bottom conference standings, they would have been the road team against the Islanders in the first round. Is that really much easier than Boston? It sounds simple, but if you want to win, then win.

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The only change I would be interested in seeing is a European-style choose-your-own-adventure format. The top team should get to pick who they play in the first round, and then the second team chooses, then the third, and the fourth and fifth who are left over play each other. I think it would certainly fulfill the objective of creating rivalries, and then teams can’t whine about who they play because they got to choose. Imagine hosting a press conference as the top team to say you want to play another team because you think they’re the easiest opponent. It would be a riot for beef.

On reffing…

Reffing will always be an issue no matter what. Every single year something happens (or doesn’t happen) that causes people to yell about reffing. This year, it was that Cody Eakin hit on Joe Pavelski that ultimately cost Vegas Game 7. I mean, the refs didn’t force them to lose Game 5 or Game 6 or allow four goals in four minutes, but they didn’t make things any easier with this botched call.

The issue at hand now becomes whether or not you should be able to review penalties. That sounds nice in theory because it could have saved Vegas from Game 7’s epic collapse, but it also opens up a massive box of possible issues. We’ve seen how frustrating constant goalie interference and offside reviews have been.

Offside reviews, which frequently involve a player not involved in the play stepping slightly ahead of the puck, massively interfere with the flow of the game. You have the excitement of a goal completely erased by five minutes spent staring into an iPad to make a decision. Goalie interference reviews are basically a coin flip. Nobody ever knows what’s going to be called, which became a point of controversy again in Boston and Toronto’s Game 5. Both, in theory, serve a function, but both are also convoluted and get in the way of the flow of the game.

What say you, Nation? Would you change the NHL’s playoff format? What about reffing? Do you think a penalty is a thing that could be reviewed? What other issues do you have with the playoffs that need to be solved? 


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    • OilTastic

      what? and let this incompetent management off the hook by rewarding them for mediocrity? never !! they are being exposed for the incompetent ninnies that they are and simply don’t deserve playoffs if they can’t get this team past the 80 or so point total every year !!

    • Oilers_1978

      Then bottom 16 team should play playoffs…

      Joking apart hope oilers would figure out things this time..and best wishes for next years..,

      Btw..Toronto loss was perfect gift after an imperfect oilers season

  • Kneedroptalbot

    I loved the old format….Oilers were in the playoffs every year…. and
    Dallas beat the tar out of them in the 1st round. But they were in the playoffs!!

  • Vanoil

    If the refs aren’t competent to ref the game have some(transparent) accountability. Whether that’s in game with a third (fifth) official like in the FiFA World Cup or in a war-room, do it and have the people fined or demoted for not doing their job properly. Also, keep the standard the same the whole season, none of this putting the whistles away diuring the play-offs. Make the standard high and above repute, without deviation. As for the play-offs, how many old Smythe Division Championships were better than or ought to have been the Stanley Cup finals? Best two teams in the series that matters. Better than local or regional or divisional rivalries are multiple rivalries that build up over time — remember how much the OIL hated the Isles or the Bruins or the Flyers???? Those rivalries were better in many respects than the FLames over and over and over again (which would still have happened b/c the Flames were arguably the second best team in the league all those years).

  • 50 Flex

    I think for every rule they need to imagine it happening in Game 7 overtime for the Stanley Cup. Imagine a team scoring in overtime to win the cup only to have the ref call it off because a guy not involved in the play was a centimeter over the blue line. No one would argue that the game was improved by that rule.

  • Arfguy

    Playoff format is fine the way it is. Any top ranking team that complains about their competition are losers with loser mentality. Washington Capitals won the Presidents trophy how many times and never got past the second round? All of a sudden they don’t finish at the top and wins the Cup? Did they face easier competition based on seeding?

    Nope. Excuses abound for anyone who were expected to go deep and lost in the first round. Jets, Lightning, Calgary…all losers, as far as I’m concerned after this year’s playoffs.

  • Kevwan

    Any change in the playoff schedule should be accompanied by a change in the schedule. If they go back to the division winners and then the next 6 best teams in the conference then all teams should play a balanced schedule within the conference. That means more travel which is even worse for the western teams.

    If the league wants to change the playoff format for the betterment of the fans and players then great. If it’s because a couple of hacks in Toronto realize the Leafs have some strong teams right now in their Division that they want to avoid then they can get bent. I suspect it’s the latter.

  • hagar

    Could they maybe have an overrule light that pops on above the timers box?
    It took about two seconds in replay to see that Vegas penalty wasnt correct, even though its debatable it was even the refs fault in the speed of the game.
    If it is something clearly missed, be it a player that got away with slashing a guy in the face on purpose and should be kicked off the ice immediately.. or a nhl cup on the line error like last night..
    It wouldn’t be for second guessing refs, just for clear human error that happens, but shouldn’t be allowed to determine who wins.

    • NickL89

      Teams got their ticket to the playoffs in the LAST game of the regular season and you’re saying there are pointless regular season games? They all matter. If you hit 100 points early on or are total trash and mathematically out in December then I guess some games don’t matter but I personally loved how playoffs were on the line for many teams right until the end!

      • Derzie

        They are pointless regular season games because nobody who was ousted in the first round due to a change in reffing and some obvious choking, gives a damn about how they did in the regular season.

  • Frank Rizza

    I liked the old 1 to 8 seeding playoff format the best. I feel like if the best 8 records during the regular seeding should make the playoffs maybe with the division winners guaranteed too. I don’t really mind the new format but I do hate the bracket system. I liked it way better when they reseeded after each round.

  • Total Points

    They should leave the playoff format as is. There will always be upsets so allowing teams to pick there opposition or have 1 play 8 or 1 play 16 there will still be upsets.

    They should grow the game in Europe or else where. I think the teams 16 to 20 should go to Europe have have a mini tournament. Then the 4 teams would make one team and play in the world championship. It would be exciting.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I’d like to see the offside challenge only be available for the initial rush. It’s ridiculous to call a goal back that happens 30 seconds or longer after the entry into the zone. Maybe once the defending team has touched the puck the offside challenge is over.

  • Heschultzhescores

    As for the Vegas game it was fantastic! Yes Pavelski fell awkward, and it should have been 2min max, but Vegas fell even more awkwardly as a team to let that happen. It made for an all time hockey great comeback!

  • camdog

    Some games are worth 2 points in standings, some are worth 3. Teams play for loser point. Other than Tampa at the top and the 3 bottom teams in west, if you change the points system they all change in their position. The standings are a gimmick, especially with 3 on 3 and shoot out. Go to 3 points for regulation win, than they’d mean something.

  • fisherprice

    Regular season 3 point system – 3 points regulation win, 2 points OT or SO win, 1 point OT or SO loss, 0 points regulation loss

    No seeding based on conference or division. 1-16 with, 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, etc. They manage to figure out times pretty easily between east coast and west coast teams in the finals. I don’t see what exactly would make it harder to do in the first round.

    • cityofchampions

      yeah the 3 point system is needed for fairness as OT is a gimmick so its not fair to give the winning team in OT the same points as a regulation win. 3 for reg win, 2 for OT win and 1 for OT loss (instead of thinking of it as a loser point, think of it as a point to each team for getting a tie in regulation, with the team winning in OT getting a bonus point). As for playoff format I’d like to see a return of 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7 etc in conferences, re-seeded every round. This makes going for points in the regular season more important as the top seed will have an easier path to the final, so maybe less superstars will be rested near the end of the season as games will be more important. Thirdly, I would have an off-ice “review” official who would correct any “egregious” errors by the ref on any matter, including offsides, highsticks, clear errors on penalties, and goals. Its the egregious errors that need to be corrected, not the nit-picky things that need to be seen on slow-motion 5 times before you can figure out what happened so they shouldn’t overturn offsides that aren’t obviously clear or goalie interference that isn’t obviously clear. The review official should be watching the game on tv and if he sees an egregious error in real time he should be allowed to stop play and correct it. Coaches should be allowed to have one appeal a game on any call (no restrictions), and if they get the first one right they get a second appeal.

  • Harry2

    Jeez whos writing this? Choose your own oponent?? You should be fired immediately. Leta chaulk this up in the same category as 2:00 penalties should run their course no matter if a goal is scored or not.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Choose your own adventure sounds awesome. They could even make a day out of it where people guess who’s gonna pick who and then they do the choosing.

    Would be like the draft lottery. Another event to grow the game.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      The networks would run it the same weekend as the draft lottery & make a killing…
      This playoffs showed that home ice advantage is moot. The top teams picking their opponent would be really something to play for down the stretch in the regular season…

  • Glencontrolurstik

    The playoffs should just be Reffed the same as they would in the regular season… in no other sport does this night & day difference exist. I’ll almost go as far as to say it’s fixed.
    I would think that TV viewership is more valuable in the bay area than Vegas? Without looking I’d say that’s the reason.
    The Canadian teams already have a huge following & TV is obviously a locked-up goldmine… It’s the US fringe teams that need help. And US TV has so much more potential for money towards the league. Texas as an example is one of the biggest TV markets that can be tapped, as is Cali.
    I met a guy yesterday at work, total stranger. When I was asking his address for a transaction I found out he was from San Jose. I congratulated him on his win last night. He, at first had no idea what I was talking about… His answer was, oh, hockey… That’s really special to you people isn’t it? We could care less. No one cares about hockey where I come from.
    It’s football season he says… I say football doesn’t start for months, he says, The draft happened, it’s already started.
    So, you can clearly see that hockey is a niche sport in the areas that seem to go deep in the playoffs every year. I’m suggesting that, as it’s happened like this for so long, it’s not a coincidence, & I’m pissed about it.
    Thanks, rant over.

  • Serious Gord

    I want whatever makes the game and what surrounds it more exciting.

    Transportation issues make it necessary to keep at least the first round within the conference.

    But other than that I agree with cams idea that the top team gets to pick their opponent. And I would continue that for the second round as well. It would be amazing fodder for media and the fans.

    But once we get to the final four they should be reseeded amoung all four making it possible for any to teams to meet in the final. So we could have a leafs/Habs final or a flames/oilers final. As it would only involve four teams transport issues are minimal.