With the re-alignment of the NHL, and its new playoff format nearly official, the NHL is about to turn in a direction any major sporting system tries to avoid.
Namely, not having the best teams in the playoffs.
If the NHL does carry through (which is more than likely) with their plan of having a four-conference set-up, they risk the very great possibility of good teams missing the playoffs and poorer teams making it.
Allow me to explain.
In the new system, the top four teams of each conference will earn a playoff spot and then battle each other until there is only one left standing in each conference. However, this system is flawed due to the fact that a fifth-place team—say, in the Northeast Conference—could have a better record than the fourth-place team in the Pacific Conference.
The likelihood of this scenario coming about is significant given the proposed new schedule in which all teams will face one another more on a regular basis. With more play overall a team could, theoretically, have a poor record versus fellow conference teams, but excel against non-conference teams allowing them to have a very good record but worse than their other conference opponents who played well against one another.
This lays open the possibility of a conference with a weak performance all around to actually have one or even two of their "playoff" teams with a worse record than "non-playoff" teams in a different conference.
One way in which to solve this problem could be to have the fourth and final spot of each conference like a wild card, and any team from any conference can claim hold of it providing they are not in their own conference's top four.
Thus, this ensures that all the best teams from across the NHL reach the playoffs, while at the same time keeping the NHL happy in giving Conference Rivalries a chance to develop or continue in the playoffs.
The NHL will either implement something like the idea I have proposed or just continue on hoping this potentially awkward situation doesn't come about.
There will also be a problem in many years there will be only one legit team in a conference and there will be three other teams in that same conference with decent records only because they are in such a weak conference and will have their numbers ballooned by that fact.
I use as an example a few years back where Carolina finished first in their division and if they were seated on point merit only would have fallen to 8th place in the conference, but instead had the benefit of remaining 3rd.
Now if we can have 5 poor teams all in one division what's stopping us from having 7 bad teams in one conference? The numbers will be screwed up from bad teams constantly playing each other. In the same sense what's stopping the odds of having 7 good teams from all being in one conference?.
Grant it the odds of this happening are slim and I wouldn't go off and put money on it, however the chances are still significant enough that a strong division might get the short end of the straw in this situation.