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What We Learned: Why NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoff system should be blown up

By Ryan Lambert

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Another NHL season has come to an end and this might be the stupidest postseason yet in the Eastern Conference.

This year, the Florida Panthers will be the third seed in the Eastern Conference despite being a thoroughly sub-mediocre hockey team. This is not in any way a revelatory statement. Anyone that watched this squad slump its way into the playoffs over the past few weeks will have seen just how easy it was to make it in the Southeast Division this year, with disappointing Washington making little effort to prevent the abominable teams usually littering its awful division from making it. If nothing else, you could always count on Alex Ovechkin and Co. to do that for you.

What you may not know about the Florida Panthers, though, is that not only are they not a good team, they are quite literally the worst team since the lockout — i.e. when we got the shootout and all that bad stuff — to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. How much worse are they? They finished the season with just 38 wins, for one thing. They lost more games than they won despite playing in probably the worst division in the league. No team has even made the playoffs winning that few games since the institution of the shootout, though Montreal and Boston had 39 each in 2010.

And prior to this year, no team has locked up a top-three seed as a division winner with fewer than 43. Florida and Phoenix (42) both got in under that particularly low limbo bar this season.

But perhaps wins aren't the greatest indicator of a team's success, and certainly, Florida would like to hope so, given that it only had 32 non-shootout wins this year — tied with titans like Buffalo, Carolina, and Colorado. So let's instead focus on its goal differential, which was appalling. Minus-24. Only nine other teams in the League were to that bad. It's the worst goal differential for a playoff team since the lockout, with the runner-up standing as Ottawa's minus-13 in 2010. They finished fifth that year, which you'll remember as the season in which Philadelphia and Montreal got into the playoffs with 88 points apiece.

All of which is a long way of saying that the Panthers have perverted the playoff system once again — the other time being in 2002-03 when Mike Keenan's squad bored the pants off everyone en route to 26 overtime games, only four of which they won. You almost have to admire Kevin Dineen's squad for its commitment to mediocrity, and that comes from the top. I said when the Panthers made all those early-July signings that Dale Tallon had amassed an impressive collection of middling NHLers, probably enough to make a mediocre NHL team. They didn't get quite that far. Again, they had one more win than the 11th-place Jets, who we can all agree are terrible.

Florida is now the ninth Eastern Conference team to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential since the lockout. By comparison, only one Western team (the 2009 Blue Jackets) has qualified with fewer goals for than against.

There was a lot of talk about the need to change the system in 2010, when two 88-point teams made it in the East, but if this doesn't convince people that the system is broken, then nothing will. But how do you fix it?

(Coming Up: Future for Selanne, Iginla; Ovechkin back on track; Devils' 5-on-1; Dave Tippett is an OK coach; Stamkos hits 60; Montreal GM search goes to Chicago; thumbs down for Penguins critics; Hartnell promises blood; and the Canucks are the most hated team in the NHL.)

Can't start admitting the top-16 seeds based on simple points. This is inherently unfair because of the unbalanced schedule allowing teams in soft divisions an unfair advantage over those in tough ones (though interestingly, the top-16 teams in the league points-wise all made the postseason this year).

Lots of people say the only logical solution is to adopt a hybrid soccer points system that many have espoused in the past: three points for a win, two for an overtime or shootout win, one for an overtime or shootout loss, and none for a regulation loss.

But this, too, isn't necessarily fair. Under such a system, you're still rewarded for trying to just get it to overtime, even if it's considerably less so. Florida still would have made the playoffs because of their reliance on the Bettman point, and in fact, still would have won the division.

The only way to stop things like this from happening is to stop giving the division winners a guaranteed spot in the top-three.

Florida has no business hosting anyone in the playoffs this year — and to a lesser extent, neither does Phoenix — and if seedings were granted based on merit, rather than geographical location, throughout the playoff table, Florida would be facing Philadelphia on the road in the first round. Which seems much more equitable, especially to the Penguins, who would go from fourth to second in the conference.

This solution makes sense because to an extent, it removes the incentive to just push game after game to overtime so that you win your division with 94 points and a minus-24 goal differential and generally make a mockery of the league.

Think Florida would have tried to win its division — an antiquated notion to begin with — the way it did if it knew it had to go get fed its lunch in four or five games straight by the Flyers? No. It might have actually tried to win more games in regulation, making them a more exciting team to watch from October to April.

And at the end of the day, that's what's most important here.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne isn't ready to announce any decisions regarding his future in the League but I think I speak for everyone when I say, "Six more years." The NHL will be so much worse off without Teemu. I miss him already.

Boston Bruins: Should Zdeno Chara get the Norris this season? Claude Julien (like all other sane people) sure thinks so.

Buffalo Sabres: Big reason the Sabres didn't make the playoffs? Thomas Vanek really disappeared in the second half of the season. He had 19 goals before the All-Star break, but only seven after it. His 26 goals this season are the lowest since his 25-goal rookie season. Not good.

Calgary Flames: The Flames will have a long hard look at the viability of Jarome Iginla remaining with the club for next season and frankly he probably should be put on the market at the very least. Of course, that also ignores how horribly the team has been mismanaged over the last four years or so to even start suggesting such a thing.

Carolina Hurricanes: The 'Canes think they can be better next year, and they're probably right since Kirk Muller is a good coach and Paul Maurice is not. Right now, though, I still don't think they make the playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks might lose assistant GM Marc Bergevin in the offseason, as the Canadiens recently asked for permission to speak with him about their vacant GM position. I bet his first bit of advice is "Don't give Brian Campbell a jumbo contract." Bergevin also speaks French so would be able to walk down the street without being pelted with garbage.

Colorado Avalanche: It remains unclear whether the Avs will increase payroll next year in an effort to make the jump from just out of the playoffs to just into them. Would such an investment be worth it? Probably not.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets finished the season winning 11 of their final 19, which apparently is important? "If you go 11-8, roughly, for a whole year…that's what you really need to make a playoff run," Wisniewski said.  "That's the pace you need." Hey remember when the Islanders won all those games last year after they got eliminated? How'd that work out for 'em this season?

Dallas Stars: Tom Gaglardi on the state of the team he owns: "I don't see a position that we don't need to get better at." Kari Lehtonen is crying. Oh but don't worry Kari: "I love our goalie. … So we don't have to worry about that position." That was a close one buddy!

Related Links

Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: Tomas Holmstrom may be awful in nearly every way, but this was a pretty nice play right here. Can't believe someone made contact with him and he stayed on his feet. I've never seen it before in my entire life.

Edmonton Oilers: Have we seen the last of Tom Renney and his coaching staff behind the bench in Edmonton? It's not yet clear, but Renney's counting this one as a W nonetheless. "This is the first time I've actually made it to the end of a season," he said after coaching Game 82, a 3-0 loss in Vancouver.

Florida Panthers: Oh, so it was the pressure of making the playoffs that made the Panthers total crap down the stretch. Yes, two wins in the final 10 games because everyone was tapping their feet and checking their watches expectantly. That must be it.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings blew a 2-0 lead and lost in overtime to the Sharks on Saturday, meaning they have to go to Vancouver for the playoffs. And yes, this article does indeed blame Ryane Clowe playing the puck from the bench for that fact.

Minnesota Wild: Another season comes to a close without a playoff appearance in Minnesota, where a 4-1 loss to the Coyotes capped things off nicely. Fun stat: the Wild won seven of their final 52 games in regulation. Fewer regulation wins than Columbus. That's a team that was never making the playoffs, right there.

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price won't play for Canada at the World Championships next month because of his concussion, but apparently he will dress like a cowboy for no reason whatsoever.

Nashville Predators: This was the first time in team history that the Predators finished ahead of the Red Wings, although whether that's a sign that the former will soon begin doing so with regularity, one supposes, is still very much up in the air, and depends on, say, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber remaining with the team that drafted them.

New Jersey Devils: If the Devs hadn't scored on this 5-on-1 rush (yes really), they should have been docked 15 points in the standings.

New York Islanders: Pat LaFontaine won't let Charles Wang lackey Mike Milbury get in his kitchen. Would that we were all so strong.

New York Rangers: Were the Rangers bad down the stretch because they were looking too much toward the playoffs? Brad Richards sure thinks so. So too does John Tortorella: "I'm just glad the 82 games are done," he said. "Now the real stuff starts." Yeah, okay.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators have beaten Henrik Lundqvist four times in the last two seasons, which would be a good sign for their coming success, but then again Tampa beat him six times during that stretch, so y'know.

Philadelphia Flyers: Scott Hartnell on the looming series with archrival Pittsburgh: "It's going to be a bloodbath." Can't wait.

Phoenix Coyotes: Dave Tippett has been coach of the Coyotes for three seasons. They've made the playoffs in all three. Coincidence? Nope. Hey who fired him? Dallas? Huh how did they do the last three years. Hmm interesting.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Here's Evgeni Malkin scoring No. 50. What a season.

San Jose Sharks: Lots of "once you get to the postseason previous meetings don't matter" talk outta San Jose, and with good reason: The Sharks went 0-4-0 against the Blues this year. They were shut out twice, never scored more than two, and had a goal differential of 11-3. Yeah, I'd say stuff like that too.

St. Louis Blues: The award for sour grapesest headline of the week in a runaway: "Did anyone really want the President's Trophy anyway?" That's something else.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Dwayne Roloson has expressed his desire to return to the NHL next year but who on earth would sign a 43-year-old after this season?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Randy Carlyle says he's gonna be more of a hardass with the Leafs next season. Oh man is that ever gonna be a fun 82.

Vancouver Canucks: Are the Canucks the most despised team in the NHL? Oh cool we're asking this question again. Let's rattle off the clichés: Whiners, divers, Alex Burrows bit a guy, play with too much of an edge, not honorable. Does that cover it? Did I miss anything? Oh I guess Luongo sucks too. That's always a good one.

Washington Capitals: Umm, you guys, I think Alex Ovechkin might be turning back into vintage Alex Ovechkin. Get ready for the whispers again.

Winnipeg Jets: One of the Jets owners says that his team not making the playoffs was a reason the team didn't live up to his expectations. Hey bud I know TSN acted like you guys were going to win all 41 at home but the team was bad in October and it's bad now so you might wanna dial it back for the sake of, you know, everyone.

Gold Star Award

Steven Stamkos scored 60 goals this year. That might be the most impressive thing that happened since the lockout.

Minus of the Weekend

Everyone turning against the Penguins. Reached for comment, the media in the Atlantic Division said, "Boo hoo hoo they're so good though sniffle sniffle."

Play of the Weekend

This goal was scored by a freshman in the final minutes of a national title game that was 2-1 at the time. It's bananas. (Sorry about the quality though.)

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "Happy Hallidays" knows what it is:

To Edmonton:
Tyler Myers
Luke Adam

To Buffalo:
2nd Overall pick
Sam Gagner
David Musil

Yes.

Signoff

If it's in me, it's in you.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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