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Klaus: NHL needs to revisit seeding system

| Wednesday, April 27, 2016

“This doesn’t feel like a first-round series.”

If I had been fortunate enough to receive compensation for every time I heard that phrase or something to its effect from players, coaches or media during the first-round series between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, then it would be safe to say I’d be in a much more advantageous financial position now than I was two weeks ago.

But despite how tiresome listening to statements pushing this rhetoric became, it is undeniable that every single one of them was true.

The first round series between the Blackhawks and Blues did not feel like a first round series, mainly because of the simple fact that, well, it shouldn’t have been a first-round series.

The Blues and Blackhawks finished with the second- and third-highest point totals in the Western Conference, respectively. When the conference overall grants eight playoff spots, it doesn’t take upper-level analytical skills to realize that there may be something awry about two teams in the top half of the league’s playoff field playing each other in an eight-team, first-round format. However, due to the NHL’s dubious playoff seeding strategy, that was the unfortunate reality.

Two years ago, the NHL drastically overhauled its regular season divisions and, subsequently, its playoff format. In particular, the league abated its number of divisions from six to four and changed the playoff design so that the top three teams in each division would be kept in the same subset of the overall playoff bracket, thus forcing the second- and third-place finishers of each division to play each other in the first round.

From the perspective of the regular season, the reasons for the realignment were certainly defensible. The league’s objectives of making its divisions more geographically appropriate and ensuring that all 30 teams would play in all 30 arenas every single season were both accomplished with the changes.

However, the unique playoff design is not nearly as logical. Simply put, there is no reason for the NHL to accommodate its regular season divisions in its playoff seeding process. Seeding on regular-season record and point total is the easiest and most cogent method, but it has been an approach that the NHL — for some absurd reason — has consistently refused to adopt.

The NBA, which has the same number of playoff teams annually and has always oddly strayed away from seeding solely on individual records, finally moved to such a format this season, and it would be surprising if they ever moved away from it going forward. Geography may be one of the most rational justifications for keeping the peculiar NHL design, but the NHL’s blatant disregard for coordinating playoff game times with the actual location of games renders that argument utterly meaningless.

Blackhawks-Blues will undoubtedly be considered one of the most entertaining playoff series of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is unfortunate that the NHL has positioned itself so that the quality of its entertainment will likely decrease as its playoffs progress.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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