In 1979, the NHL added four WHA franchises. In addition to the new teams the League introduced a new playoff format. The four divisional champions automatically earned a spot in the playoffs with the next 12 best regular season records rounding out the final 12 seeds.
I thought it would be fun to imagine what this would look like if the NHL adopted this same playoff format and applied it today if the regular season were to have ended last night.
Because there are six divisions in today’s NHL, I decided to go with overall points as a way to seed the teams. In cases where there was a tie, I placed the team with more games played in a lower seed.
This is how the playoff picture came into focus:
#1 Detroit (108) vs. #16 Vancouver (86)
#2 San Jose (100) vs. #15 Boston (86)
#3 Montreal (96) vs. #14 Colorado (88)
#4 Anaheim (96) vs. #13 Carolina (88)
#5 Pittsburgh (95) vs. #12 Philadelphia (88)
#6 New Jersey (91) vs. #11 NY Rangers (89)
#7 Ottawa (91) vs. #10 Dallas (89)
#8 Minnesota (91) vs. #9 Calgary (90)
While some of the match-ups look similar if today’s playoff format was still used many are drastically different; and in my opinion, more intriguing.
Seeing as this is total fantasy I thought I’d continue our trip down the yellow brick road and predict the Stanley Cup winner based on this format.
In round 1 I don’t believe we would see too many upsets.
Detroit’s offense would eventually overpower the stout defense and heroics of Roberto Loungo.
Boston would see the return of Joe Thornton but it wouldn’t be a pleasant visit. The Beantown faithful would once again be reminded of one of the worst deals in NHL history as ‘Jumbo Joe’ leads his Sharks past his former team in swift and brutal fashion.
Montreal and Colorado also share some history as it was the Habs that sent the Avalanche the last piece they needed to secure multiple Cups on the back of former Montreal Conn Smythe winner Patrick Roy. It would also mark the return of Jose Theodore whose career appeared to be on the brink of distinction when he was dealt to the Avs in March of 2006. Things have changed since then as Theodore has regained some of his old mojo pushing Colorado back into the playoff spotlight. However, while Theodore performs heroics for Colorado between the pipes, Montreal beats the Avs in a close and very entertaining first round match-up.
The two previous Stanley Cup champions meet up next in the #4 vs #13 bracket. Carolina has shown an amazing amount of resilience after losing their heart and soul captain, Rod Brind’Amour and a slew of other core players. They will give the current reigning champs all they can handle but in the end Anaheim is too big, too healthy and too deep on the backend for the Raleigh bunch.
In the Battle of Pennsylvania the Penguins and Flyers prepare to renew an old and heated rivalry. With the return of Sid the Kid the Penguins boast an impressive offensive attack. The Flyers have been picking their game up of late as Mike Richards has also come off the IR to help lead his team into the postseason. Along with the Montreal-Colorado series, this one is also highly entertaining featuring high-flying attacks and acrobatic goaltending. But this year, the Penguins will not be sent home early. Malkin, Crosby, Hossa and Fleury are too much for the Flyers and the Penguins are off to the second round.
In another inter-state battle the Devils play host to the NY Rangers. This series features stone wall defenses with superb goaltending. While Henrik Lundqvist shines at the Rock and in the Garden, future Hall of Fame goaltender Marty Brodeur answers each save with one of his own and the Devils take advantage of the Rangers young defense sending the boys in Blue home in five games.
Ottawa grabbed the #7 seed but they’re lucky to be participating in the playoffs at all. After a tremendous start to the season, the Sens collapsed under a whirlwind of soap opera type drama that eventually cost former bench boss, John Paddock, his job. With Marty Gerber in net and an unbalanced offensive attack, the Dallas Stars pick them apart in one-sided affair. The off-season proves to be more entertaining for Sens fans than their brief playoff appearance. As the world turns, so will Bryan Murray’s telephone dial as he attempts to find Ray Emery a new home.
In a Northwest division match-up we see the #8 seeded Minnesota Wild take on the Calgary Flames. This is another entertaining series with Minnesota trying to impose their puck possession style over the rough and tumble gameplan employed by ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan. However, Minnesota proves to be too small for the big men from Calgary as Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff lead the Flames into round two.
#1 Detroit (108) vs. #10 Dallas (89)
#2 San Jose (100) vs. #9 Calgary (90)
#3 Montreal (96) vs. #6 New Jersey (91)
#4 Anaheim (96) vs. #5 Pittsburgh (95)
Hockeytown welcomes the Stars for what promises to be another strong defensive series. Brad Richards continues his strong postseason play and Marty Turco shows everyone why Mike Smith was expendable. Nick Lidstrom is, once again, a rock on the blueline while leading the attack on the powerplay. Dominik Hasek and Chris Chelios do their part in proving that age is only a number and the Wings squeak out a tough six game series that could have gone either way. When the dust settles the Wings depth on the blueline combined with a balanced attack from their top two lines propels Detroit into the third round for the second year in a row.
While San Jose had an easy time with Boston in the first round, the waters became much murkier for the Sharks in the second. Calgary is relentless on the forecheck and downright mean in their own end fracturing San Jose’s already fragile playoff psyche. Despite Big Joe’s best efforts he can’t drag his team further and the Flames are off to round three.
The top two teams in the East faceoff in what will prove to be the best series of the second round. Alex Kovalev leads the Habs attack while Martin Brodeur, again, resumes his role as the greatest last defense of his era. In a see-saw, seven game battle, the Devils penalty killing trumps Montreal’s potent power play in a series that could have gone either way.
In a classic matchup of offense vs. defense the young Penguins fly into Anaheim hoping their young superstars can crack the armor of the NHL’s best defensive core. Crosby and Malkin are valiant in their quest for the Cup, but Anaheim’s defense, led by Scott Neidermayer and Chris Pronger squelch the Pens attack while the Ducks top two lines provide just enough offense to move on to the next round.
#1 Detroit (108) vs. #9 Calgary (90)
#4 Anaheim (96) vs. #6 New Jersey (91)
Detroit and Calgary rekindle the friendships forged from their first round encounter last year. Both teams know each other well as both rosters are nearly identical to their previous meeting. Blood is drawn and wills are tested in a tightly played semi-final. Over the course of the seven game dust-up, Detroit’s depth and resilience helps propel them over a gritty Flames performance. For the first time in eight years, the Wings are back in the finals.
In a rematch of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, the Ducks and Devils engage in a tough and suffocating defensive struggle. Goaltenders on either side stymie rare offensive opportunities to a frustrating degree. Patrick Elias and Zach Parise make Ducks fans sweat every time they control the puck in the offensive zone, but the Ducks hold them off while Ryan Getzlaf has a series for the ages, propelling Anaheim back into the finals for the third time in six years.
#1 Detroit (108) vs. #4 Anaheim (96)
If destiny was a hockey fan, she had a hand in the finals. Many predicted these two teams would meet in the playoffs with the winner taking home the ultimate prize. Fans will not be disappointed as this series features strong defense, stalwart goaltending and two completely, yet effective, brands of offense. While the Ducks like to base their offense off a strong, pulverizing, dump-and-chase forecheck, the Wings continue to employ a highly effective puck possession offensive scheme. Refusing to simply give up the puck, the Wings will always attempt a pass before bailing out by dumping the puck. Both clubs are extremely effective in their strategies and it’s for this reason that the Finals will be decided by a seventh game. Chris Pronger has just returned from a one game suspension after cross checking Johan Franzen into next week. It was that suspension that allowed the Wings to tie up the series with a 3-2 victory in Anaheim two nights before.
Through 60 minutes, both teams trade chances, kill off one nerve-wracking penalty after another, and swap goals in the first and second periods leading to the most exciting period of any team sport; sudden-death overtime. Unlike the third period, both teams fly out of the gate trying to end the game early. Teemu Selanne rings one of the iron as Dominik Hasek sprawls around the crease after tossing his paddle aside. Tomas Holmstrom tips one wide after a strong cycle produces a Rafalski blast from the point. And then, with only four minutes and 32 seconds played in the extra stanza, Mikael Samuelsson fails to chip the puck out of his zone, allowing former wing Mathieu Schneider to kick the puck to Chris Kunitz along the wall. The undrafted Saskatchewan native throws the puck out front to Ryan Getzlaf who quickly fires the puck past a diving Hasek to give the Ducks their second Cup victory in as many years.
Teemu Selanne and Scott Neidermayer announce their retirement through tears of joy as the Wings players and their fans once again think about “next year”.
Please let me know if you'd be interested in seeing the NHL adopt this playoff format or what you're predictions would be using this scenario.