The excitement surrounding the 2014 NHL playoffs was through the roof after the first-round matchups were cemented, and the action through the start of the postseason has not only lived up to expectations, but it has surpassed them.
Teams like Montreal and San Jose have taken commanding leads in their respective series, but battles between Boston and Detroit, as well as New York and Philadelphia, are satisfying even the most fickle hockey fans.
There is a reason the NHL postseason is regarded as one of the best in sports.
Here is an examination of the new NHL playoff format. For an updated NHL playoff bracket, check out NHLPlayoffsBracket.com.
Breaking Down How the New Playoff Format is Holding Up
For the fans that missed the boat on the changes to the postseason format, it has become abundantly clear that the NHL favored having a similar NCAA college basketball bracket-style format to the traditional style it had used for years.
While the idea of fans filling out brackets is a novel concept for the league, the damage it is doing to the quality of competition is undeniable. Some experts, including Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, talked about the flaws in this system before it even started:
Instead of upholding tradition, the NHL turned it into a glorified bracket challenge.
The fans should have been treated to the Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals, but it is now relegated to the first round. As great as the Kings vs. Sharks series is on paper, the best teams should’ve played later in the postseason.
After years of seeding the top eight teams from each conference and reseeding them after each round—that ensures that the best teams get the most favorable matchups—the NHL broke the league into four different divisions.
Each division has a quarter of the bracket and plays amongst themselves for the first two series of the postseason. Instead of Boston getting a team like Philadelphia in the second round, the Bruins would play the winner of the Tampa Bay vs. Montreal series.
Julie Robenhymer of HockeyBuzz.com talks about what the playoff matchups should have been:
The addition of wild-card teams also convolutes the equation. After the top three seeds from each division are locked into the postseason, the two teams with the highest points total will make the playoffs.
That’s why Dallas is forced to play Anaheim.
There is no doubt that hockey fans are enjoying the first-round action, but it’s more because of the unique matchups than it is the genuine excitement. Fans want to see the best teams going to battle to decide which deserves the right to advance.
In the current format, it’s easier for less deserving teams to move on in the bracket, and that may spawn lackluster series in the Conference semifinals or finals.
For a league trying to sell itself to casual fans, the playoff format change isn’t helping.
*Stats via NHL.com.