Unlike the NBA, the NHL automatically gives the three division winners in each conference one of the top three seeds in the playoffs. This holds true not just for the first round, but for as long as the division winners remain in the playoffs.
The result can create unfair advantages for teams that just don't deserve them.
Look at the Eastern Conference's third seed this year, the Florida Panthers. They finished with 94 points, which would place them seventh in the conference if the league used straight records to seed its teams.
But because the Panthers won the weak Southeast Division, they were automatically seeded third. Now, the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils have an easier first-round opponent than both the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia).
In addition, the Penguins and Flyers have to play each other in the first round. This means that one team that is considered a Stanley Cup contender is going to be eliminated in the first round because they have to face another highly regarded contending team. Again, the Devils, who finished behind both of these teams, get an easier first-round opponent in Florida.
Division winners should be rewarded and receive an automatic playoff berth, but they should not be seeded ahead of better teams just because they won their division.
NHL teams play 82 games to earn the most points they can to get the highest seed possible. It is more fair if division winners are automatically in the playoffs, but are seeded where they belong in the standings.