Re-evaluating first round series using different playoff seeding formats

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs officially start today, which frankly has been a long time coming. The three full days between the end of the regular season and first playoff game are always unbearably long, especially after the series match-ups have been determined.

With some final tweaking on Saturday, the eight first round series were set in stone and the playoff primers began to pour out. One talking point often referred to from coast to coast is the current playoff format, with scrutiny from many since its implementation for the 2013-14 season.

Fans, players, coaches, and managers have probably all wondered at some point: when will the current format be abolished in favour of previous formats, or if a potential new style would be better.

With that in mind, what would the 2019 playoffs look like if the NHL had changed their format this season? The types of seeding we had mind are conference 1v8, league wide 1v16, and a three point regulation win system. What teams would be facing each other under those circumstances? Lets take a look:

The Current Series

Calgary Flames (PAC1) vs Colorado Avalanche (WC2)Tampa Bay Lightning (ATL1) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (WC2)
Nashville Predators (CEN1) vs Dallas Stars (WC1)
Washington Capitals (MET1) vs Carolina Hurricanes (WC1)
San Jose Sharks (PAC2) vs Vegas Golden Knights (PAC3)Boston Bruins (ATL2) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (ATL3)
Winnipeg Jets (CEN2) vs St. Louis Blues (CEN3) New York Islanders (MET2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (MET3)

As we have known for the last few days, these are the eight series will we see in the first round. They follow the current format of three teams per division, plus two wild card teams, making up the eight playoff teams per conference.

Of the series, there are a few notable ones. The Leafs and Bruins play each other for the second straight season, and the third time in the last seven. The Flames and Avalanche face off for the first time in their respective histories, while the Sharks and Golden Knights play each other in consecutive seasons in what is sure to be a slug fest.

That being said, there is a bit of unevenness due to the current playoff format. The Leafs easily draw the shortest straw of the bunch. Finishing fifth in their conference and seventh overall, they get unlucky by having to play the Bruins, who are ranked second in the east and third overall.

Washington, who finished at the top of the Metropolitan but third in the conference, are fortunate enough to face the Carolina Hurricanes. Plus the Colorado Avalanche, who are the 17th ranked team in the NHL, make it in the West.

That being said, these are the series we will be getting and enjoying for the next few weeks (or less), but what if we change it up a bit?

1 v 8 Conference Seeding

Calgary Flames (1) vs Colorado Avalanche (8) Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
San Jose Sharks (2) vs Vegas Golden Knights (7) Boston Bruins (2) vs Carolina Hurricanes (7)
Nashville Predators (3) vs Dallas Stars (6) Washington Capitals (3) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
Winnipeg Jets (4) vs St. Louis Blues (5) New York Islanders (4) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (5)

Now things get interesting, at least in the East.

The Western Conference actually sees no change at all if realigned to a 1v8 format. Each team is exactly where they would be and facing the team they currently are. No harm, no foul.

The Eastern Conference on the other hand produces some absolutely thrilling series. In the first round we would see another Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby duel, which will never get old. We also get to see John Tavares face off against his former team, with the Islanders looking to extract some sweet revenge. As well, a Carolina versus Boston series could be interesting to see, while the Tampa Bay versus Columbus Series remains the same.

Now of course this wasn’t how the old playoff series were determined, as the three divisional winners would make up the top three seeds. How would that change things up?

Calgary Flames (1/NW) vs Colorado Avalanche (8) Tampa Bay Lightning (1/SE) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
San Jose Sharks (2/PAC) vs Vegas Golden Knights (7) Boston Bruins (2/NE) vs Carolina Hurricanes (7)
Nashville Predators (3/CEN) vs Dallas Stars (6) New York Islanders (3/ATL) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
Winnipeg Jets (4) vs St. Louis Blues (5) Washington Capitals (4) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (5)

Thanks again to the Western Conference for providing little entertainment; the hypothetical divisional winners were already the top three teams.

This restructuring only changes two East series, with the Islanders swapping places with the Capitals. That being said, this alteration yields less exciting series in both cases than with the original 1v8 format.

1 v 16 League Seeding

Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs Vegas Golden Knights (16)New York Islanders (5) vs St. Louis Blues (12)
Calgary Flames (2) vs Dallas Stars (15)San Jose Sharks (6) vs Carolina Hurricanes (11)
Boston Bruins (3) vs Montreal Canadiens (14)Toronto Maple Leafs (7) vs Winnipeg Jets (10)
Washington Capitals (4) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (13)Nashville Predators (8) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (9)

Thing just got real interesting folks. The biggest difference here is that the Colorado Avalanche would not have qualified under this format. Instead, the Montreal Canadiens would have made it, and as the 14th seed nonetheless.

These series would have had most fans salivating. A Boston versus Montreal classic, an all Canadian match-up in the Leafs versus Jets, and re-match of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final are all just a taste of what we could have gotten.

Of course this seeding makes it much harder for the two top teams. The Lightning would have to go through the Golden Knights, likely a much stronger opponent than the Blue Jackets. The Flames meanwhile would have to beat the Stars, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2016. This would make the first round much more stressful for both teams, but would provide even more drama.

But wait, what if we go off the books even more?

Three Point Win System

An interesting topic as of late is what if the NHL implemented a three point system? Granting three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout victory, and one point for a loss in extra time would be an interesting change for the league. If they had done so at the start of the season, the playoff teams would be as followed:

TeamOverall3PTS2PTS1PTSTOTAL
Tampa Bay Lightning62-16-449134177
Calgary Flames50-25-74557152
Boston Bruins49-24-938119145
Washington Capitals48-26-83998143
New York Islanders48-27-737117140
Toronto Maple Leafs46-28-84068140
San Jose Sharks46-27-93889139
Nashville Predators47-29-63896138
Carolina Hurricanes46-29-73977138
Pittsburgh Penguins44-26-1237712137
Winnipeg Jets47-30-53895137
St. Louis Blues45-28-93699135
Columbus Blue Jackets47-31-437104135
Montreal Canadiens44-30-83778133
Dallas Stars43-32-73677129
Vegas Golden Knights43-32-73677129

We won’t run through every single playoff scenario once again with the new point standings, but here are some highlights to note.

Not to rub it in again Montreal, but the Canadiens would once again be in limbo under multiple scenarios. A 1 v 16 scenario would see them back in the playoffs, while the current format and 1v8 would not.

Under the current playoff format, with the updated points, the West would see no changes. The East however would have Carolina sneak into the third Metropolitan spot, with Pittsburgh falling back to the wild card. It would be Islanders versus Hurricanes and Capitals versus Penguins. Essentially, the wild card race to end the season with this point system becomes much more riveting.

The 1 v 8 scenarios would remain unchanged in the Western Conference, while the East would see Boston versus Pittsburgh as the only new series we haven’t seen before. Using the standings above, a 1 v 16 format would yield similar series besides the new San Jose versus Pittsburgh and Nashville versus Carolina.

Ready, set, go!

Regardless of the potential match-ups that could have been for the first round, these won’t come to fruition, at least not in the next few years. However, we are still fortunate to get a number of thrilling series to open the playoffs.

Although there may be some better formats out there some teams didn’t see their opponents change all that much, especially in the west. It’s more likely the NHL reverts back to the old 1v8 system after the 2019-20 season, which would be a welcomed refresh.

To really see change across the board, 1v16 matchups would make for tons of cross-conference matchups. Travel logistics aside, that would be highly entertaining. Another way to increase the entertainment value to a maximum would to allow the best teams to pick their poison.

No matter how playoff matchups are determined, the final goal remains the same. The quest for the Stanley Cup requires sixteen wins over four separate series. Let the games begin.


Which playoff format is your favorite? Let us know in the comments or on Tiwtter at @wincolumnblog

Photo by Dirk Shad of the Tampa Bay Times

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