News Blog: Divisional playoff alignment would breed rivalries

I suppose when you do anything long enough, you run the risk of breeding blasé.

Nearly 20 years into my career at The Hockey News, however, I can’t ever envision that happening with the NHL playoffs. Every April is a time of renewal and anticipation, knowing there will be stunning upsets, raging refereeing controversies and marathon overtimes. The fun is in watching the thrillers/mysteries unfold.

There is, however, one thing I miss. Perhaps I’m just being wistful, a selective recall kicking in, making a bygone era seem more romantic than it really was, but I’d love to see a return to the divisional playoff format.

Eric Duhatschek weighs in on this in the next issue of The Hockey News and it’s an opinion I’ve shared for a few years: the blood feuds of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s were the products of repeated post-season meetings and geographical proximity and nearly always seemed epic. The Battles of Alberta and Quebec; Rangers-Islanders; St. Louis-Chicago; Boston-Montreal still resonate.

Granted, with more teams in the league, the frequency of re-matches would diminish, but they’d still occur more often than they do today under a revised system. We’ve lucked into a few, but we could increase the odds by manipulating (and renaming) the divisions into four houses. Here’s how they could look:

Western Conference

Howe Division
St. Louis

Gretzky Division
Los Angeles
San Jose

Eastern Conference
Richard Division
New Jersey

Lemieux Division

Top four in each division qualify, with a 1-vs.-4, 2-vs.-3 format. Winners play each other, subsequently moving on to the conference and Stanley Cup final.

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If that set-up were employed this season, the first round – based on standings through April 8 – would look this way:

Detroit vs. St. Louis
Chicago vs. Columbus
San Jose vs. Anaheim
Vancouver vs. Calgary
Boston vs. Rangers
New Jersey vs. Montreal
Philadelphia vs. Carolina
Washington vs. Pittsburgh

Six of the eight series’ would be different than under the current system, including a Crosby-Ovechkin showdown, a battle of California, a Detroit-St. Louis old-school matchup and Canadian foes Vancouver and Calgary going head-to-head.

There are downsides, admittedly. Races may not be as tight and a team may qualify ahead of a non-playoff opponent with more points in another division (though that wouldn’t be the case this season), but really, it’s the post-season that matters, isn’t it? If you’re fifth out of seven teams after 82 games…well, you already had your chances.

It may not be perfect, but it’s an idea worth considering if we want to amp things up even further. One of my colleagues even suggested rotating playoff formats every five years, or so, to maintain optimal freshness.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with leaving things as they are, but if there’s a chance to make a great thing even better, why not consider it?

Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog appears every Friday.

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