As exciting as the current divisional alignment is for the playoffs, it has given us a less than optimal Stanley Cup final. They won’t all end this way, but one way to ensure the best final possible each year? How about a 1-16 setup?
Since the Stanley Cup championship became a best-of-7 in 1939, there have been 20 sweeps. That’s 27 percent. And Scotty Bowman was a coach in nine of them – five series wins, four series losses.
But it hasn’t happened for a while. The last four-game sweep in the Stanley Cup final was completed by the Detroit Red Wings over the Washington Capitals in 1998. Bowman’s team did it to Philadelphia in 1997 too.
We’ve been lucky that 12 of the past 14 finals have extended beyond even five games, including six Game 7s. The post-2005 parity era has given us some pretty good championship rounds that have been tightly contested between West and East.
It appears this year will end that streak. Though the New York Rangers put up a valiant effort on the road in Games 1 and 2, they came away winless and were then shut out on home ice in Game 3. Sure, the script playing out in 2014 is very similar to the one in 2012, when Los Angeles won the first two games against New Jersey in OT, shut them out in Game 3 and the series went six games anyway. But, really, that result has no bearing on this series.
The Kings look prepped to wrap this sucker up in four games.
If the Stanley Cup is in fact awarded on Wednesday, it would be a shame to end these playoffs on such a low note. Most people will agree this has been the best post-season in years, so to end with a sweep would be to go into the off-season with a whimper.
This series speaks to the disparity between the competition in the East and West. Aside from maybe the Bruins, no Eastern team would have been a favorite in the Cup final. From the start, it was unlikely we’d get a final that would be better than the Los Angeles-San Jose series or the Chicago-St. Louis series. And while I’m a fan of the current divisional play down format – and recognize it’s the best, realistic option – there is another design that would set us up to get the best possible final more often than not.
The NHL has used a 1-16 playoff format for a few years before, though it won’t likely again because of travel costs. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the league pooled all of the playoff qualifiers into one ranking and re-seeded them each round based on regular season point totals. Rivalries may not be as easily fostered as they are through the divisional lineup, but it would provide fresh and intriguing matchups – and result in more quality conclusions.
What would a 1-16 format have looked like in Round 1 this year? Division winners automatically get the top four seeds.
1. Boston vs. 16. Dallas
Tyler Seguin vs. his old team. Yes please.
2. Anaheim vs. 15. Detroit
Rematch of the 2013 series that went seven games
3. Colorado vs. 14. Columbus
Semyon Varlamov vs. Sergei Bobrovsky. Ryan Johansen vs. Matt Duchene.
4. Pittsburgh vs. 13. Philadelphia
Here’s a classic playoff matchup we’d get in Round 1 anyway.
5. St. Louis vs. 12. NY Rangers
The current Stanley Cup finalist vs. a Western powerhouse eliminated in Round 1. Oh how the playoff fortunes of these two could have been so much different.
6. San Jose vs. 11. Minnesota
The two teams involved in the draft day blockbuster involving Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley and Brent Burns a few years back. If the Sharks blew this more favorable Round 1 matchup…
7. Chicago vs. 10. Los Angeles
Remember, the Kings didn’t finish the regular season as an elite team – they step it up in the post-season. It would be a shame to lose one of these two in the first round, but we lost good teams early under the current format anyway. If the Kings lost the first three games of this series, it would be hard to imagine they could have come back on Chicago.
8. Tampa Bay vs. 9. Montreal
We know how this one would have played out because it’s a matchup we got in the first round this year.
Under the 1-16 format using this year’s standings, the Rangers and Kings may not have even made it past the first round. Although, after witnessing what they’ve done the past two months, you’d have to be crazy to bet against the Kings. In fact, in only one series are we guaranteed to lose an elite team.
The NHL will almost surely never go back to this kind of format, but a guy can dream.
How would the Stanley Cup playoffs have played out using this system?