The top two teams in each division, plus the next six highest teams, make the playoffs, with the division leaders getting ranked 1-5 and the next three highest teams getting the 6-8 spots.
This gives us the following Higher Seeds, based on the 2010-11 standings
- Vancouver Canucks
- Washington Capitals
- Detroit Red Wings
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Phoenix Coyotes
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- San Jose Sharks
Obviously, the Flyers, Pens and Sharks had more points than Phoenix, but the Coyotes had the most points of any team in the Central Division, so they get the preferred seeding. This does happen all the time, with the most obvious recent example was the 2008 Washington Capitals getting the third seed despite having the same number of points as the eighth-seed Boston Bruins, due to the weakness of the Southeast Division that year.
The next eight highest-ranking teams get thrown into a pool of sorts. So our lower pool would consist of the following four teams with their divisions.
9. Boston Bruins (East)
10. Anaheim Ducks (West)
11. Nashville Predators (South)
12. Los Angeles Kings (West)
13. Chicago Blackhawks (Central)
14. Montreal Canadiens (North)
15. Buffalo Sabres (North)
16. Dallas Stars (South)
The top team, in this case Vancouver, starts at the bottom (with Dallas). They check to see if they are either in their division or a division next to them. To see which divisions are considered "next to," look at the picture with this slide show. West is considered next to Central. Central is next to West, and South. North is next to South and East. East is next to North and South, while South is next to East, North and Central.
If the bottom team is NOT in either the top team's division or an adjacent division, they pass on them and move up a spot, checking again. This goes until they find a suitable opponent. For the sake of fairness, let's have the team stop after going five spots higher than they should. If they don't find anyone, then they take the lowest-seeded team and be done with this.
Confused? Well, an example will help.
Vancouver is looking for an opponent in either the Western Division or the Central Division. First check Dallas, they're in the South so ignore them, then Buffalo, who is in the North, same for Montreal. Finally they get to a team—Chicago—who is in one of those two divisions. So we're set with a first-round Vancouver-Chicago matchup.
Next go to Washington. They are looking for someone in the East, North or South, they start at the bottom with Dallas, who is in the South. Done! Detroit is even easier since the lowest available team, Buffalo, is in their division.
That leaves Tampa, the fourth seed, and the lowest team left is #14 Montreal who is in the North Division, which is adjacent to the South, so they are matched up.
Anyway, hopefully you get the picture. If this continues, they matchups we would get would be:
#1 Vancouver Canucks (W) vs. #13 Chicago Blackhawks (C)
#2 Washington Capitals (E) vs. #16 Dallas Stars (S)
#3 Detroit Red Wings (N) vs. #15 Buffalo Sabres (N)
#4 Tampa Bay Lightning (S) vs. #14 Montreal Canadiens (N)
#5 Phoenix Coyotes (C) vs. #12 Los Angeles Kings (W)
#6 Philadelphia Flyers (E) vs. #11 Nashville Predators (S)
#7 Pittsburgh Penguins (E) vs. #9 Boston Bruins (N)
#8 San Jose Sharks (W) vs. #10 Anaheim Ducks (W)
Obviously this is far from perfect, but it gives us some pretty solid first-round matchups. A straight 1-16 seeding would give us Tampa-LA and Anaheim-Philly in the first round, which would be difficult for travel and television.
It seems unfair to the Penguins fans to get the Bruins in the first round. However, the Bruins had the exact same 103 point total that the Tampa Bay Lightning had, and they met the Pens in the first round this past spring.
In the second and third rounds, teams can be reseeded until we get to a final.
This setup puts a huge advantage on winning your division as you get to minimize travel. The farthest possible first-round matchup would be Winnipeg and Florida or Florida and Montreal, but both of those are possible this year.
This also increases the chances of a divisional opponent in the first round which would no doubt help create and sustain rivalries. Also, it makes it possible to have two divisional opponents in the finals, to really up the tension. Come on, you know the league would go nuts for a Crosby-Ovechkin final.
I like that this views divisions as a continuum instead of being strictly divided along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border like it is now. It may be slightly complicated, but all the different possibilities could really make some interesting dynamics in the final few weeks of the season.
Too much? Well the other option is...