NHL Realignment: Is the New Stanley Cup Playoff Format Built to Last?

Jordan MatthewsAnalyst IIIDecember 7, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to attendees during 'Sports Teams for Social Change,' hosted by Beyond Sport United on September 27, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

On Monday night, after meeting for what was hardly an hour, the NHL Board of Governors made a decision to establish a massive realignment in the NHL. Aside from random teams making small complaints about possibly having to travel further distances, the biggest thing on everybody's mind is how this will affect the quality of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The plan for the new conference setup is to have the top four teams from each conference advance to the playoffs and then play the first two rounds of the playoffs within their own conference.

Although nothing is confirmed yet, when the inter-conference rounds are over, the plan is to reseed all four conference champions and have the first vs. fourth seeds and second vs. third seeds play each other, with the winners facing off in the Finals.

This has drawn loads of criticism from hockey fans around the U.S. and Canada.

The first problem fans notice is a bit of an unfair balance in the playoffs. There are only four spots open in any given conference, and yet two conferences have one more team than the others.

For fans of teams like Columbus, Anaheim, Colorado and Nashville, that makes the chances of seeing your team in the playoffs less likely than it would be in a seven-team division.

Another complaint from fans is the idea that seeing the same teams in the first two rounds over and over again will get boring after a few years.

MONTREAL, CANADA - NOVEMBER 21:  Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins and David Desharnais #51 of the Montreal Canadiens battle for position during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 21, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard W
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

While this will help build rivalries, it's easy to understand the complaint that fans are watching the same series three, four or even five years in a row.

And another complaint is that the new setup actually contradicts building those rivalries. When you play your own conference in the first two rounds, that leaves out all conference opponents for the final two rounds.

That means that after the second round, there's never a chance of a Detroit/Chicago, Boston/Montreal or Philadelphia/New York series. Never.

While there's no chance of the NHL going back on this realignment, it's very likely that the alignment is living with an expiration date on it.

Whether Gary Bettman is aware of that or not remains to be seen.

One thing that's for sure is that over the next five or 10 years, there will be at least one complaint from a team that had more points than a team from another conference, but didn't make the playoffs due to the fact that they're in a better conference.

And if the rivalries get overplayed, it could trigger moving the playoffs back to a one through eight seeding format, which would be preferred.

At this point, it's perfectly possibly that the NHL is aware of this, and they are just playing with the conference playoff format for a few years in the hopes of sparking multiple new rivalries.

Let's hope that's the case, because if Gary Bettman wants to be hard-headed, we could be stuck with some major problems for the next 20 years.

Jordan Matthews is a writer for the NHL and the Detroit Red Wings. More of his hockey coverage is linked below:

How Each NHL Team is Affected By the NHL Realignment

Sabres/Predators Brawl is the way Hockey Should Be

Pavel Datsyuk and Five Players Who Would Be Awesome on HBO's 24/7

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