The combination of league parity and the NHL’s current playoff seeding system could lead to a nightmare scenario for the league – and one really angry team.
Through Jan. 8, the Carolina Hurricanes held down third spot in the East by virtue of leading the Southeast Division with 48 points. The New York Rangers, having played two less games than the Canes, occupied the ninth position (which comes with no playoff privileges) with 45 points. Not exactly an insurmountable deficit.
I understand the NHL wants to reward division winners with a high seed, but how could the league stand by and do nothing if a team that didn’t make the playoffs had more points than a squad that did?
It’s hard to imagine anybody other than Atlanta or Carolina winning the weak Southeast Division. And given neither of those teams is exactly a powerhouse, it’s very easy to conceive of a situation where not one of the five Southeast teams finishes among the top eight in the conference.
The lack of an amendment to allow the team with more points to compete in the spring dance would leave the NHL red- and eggy-faced.
Given teams make their gravy on playoff games, you can bet the owner of a ninth-place club that’s actually an eighth-place club would make very clear to commissioner Gary Bettman his views on what is a dangerously flawed playoff system.
PERILOUSLY LOW GAAs
Coincidence or scary sign; the last time three goalies finished the season with goals-against averages less than 2.00 was 2003-04.
You remember that season, the last in which some players would have been just as effective skating with ropes as sticks because lassoing opponents to the ice was accepted practice.
The first season following the lockout, not one goalie posted a sub-2.00 GAA. Last year, only Niklas Backstom of the Wild did.
This season? Three goalies who’ve played at least 23 games – Chris Osgood, Roberto Luongo and Pascal Leclaire – are all looking up at 2.00. A fourth stopper, Evgeni Nabokov, clocked in at 2.01 after 41 games.
Just because clutching and grabbing has been largely eliminated doesn’t mean defensive hockey can’t maintain a death grip on the NHL.
With apologies to all the talented masked men out there, here’s hoping more NHL rinks turn into red light districts in the second half.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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