A first-round Original Six playoff matchup between Scott Gomez and the New York Rangers and Brian Rafalski and the Detroit Red Wings would surely be a hit. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
This past weekend, my colleague Brian Costello came up with a formula for a new playoff setup meant to bring in a few more teams and add to the second season’s excitement. The idea is intriguing and gets the extra round over with quickly enough to avoid tampering with the post-season’s integrity.
While I think it would be neat to add in these one-game series, I believe there is another way we can slightly change the playoff setup to arrange rivalries across the league and get away from the current arrangement, which is akin to a two-league system.
The NHL tried an awkward re-jigging of the schedule after the lockout to amp up divisional rivalries, but that got stale in a hurry. The regular season, for the most part, isn’t where these rivalries bloom.
So instead of trying to force geographic rivalries (the easiest to brew naturally, anyway) during the comparably-bland regular season, how about we amalgamate the two conferences come playoff time and set up rivalries from across the continent.
Straight up, just take it back-to-the-future. In the 1970s and ’80s the top-16 teams in the league played down: 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15 and so on.
How much fun would that be? In the first round you could just as easily have a divisional battle – say, a New Jersey-Pittsburgh matchup that would have occurred in 2007 – as you could have a long-lost Original Six epic – such as the Detroit-N.Y. Rangers tilt that would have also gone down in ’07.
Let’s take a look at last year’s standings. Boston-San Jose; Montreal-Calgary; Anaheim-Washington; Dallas-Rangers. And that’s just the initial round.
Under this formula, the best two teams would faceoff in the Stanley Cup final, without a doubt. Not to say the current arrangement leaves the final lopsided, but if two teams from the same conference would provide the best final, that’s what I want to see.
This setup promotes the proliferation of rivalries that could define a generation. Why limit showdowns to one half of the continent when they could spread out to all corners of the Americas? I mean, the chances of Detroit and Pittsburgh meeting in the final again this year are remote, but if the conferences were amalgamated for the playoffs, they could possibly extend their disdain for each other in the first or second round this year.
Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes. And the NHL needs more of it. Instead of tinkering with the already chaotic regular season schedule to incite a rivalry, just leave it to where hockey is at its best and when you know the two teams will be giving it everything they have in each game: the playoffs.
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