A lot of rabble rousing has occurred this season with Toronto and Boston headed on a third date, and know what third dates mean. It means Toronto fans get really unhappy because their team gets ... again.
So when the Toronto fan base is angry, it causes a rumble in the hockey world, largely because they have the greatest influence over the network that arguably still has dominion on hockey news, TSN. And it's kind of like the current "Conservative" (Populist) struggle, where a bunch of irate pluralists in San Fransisco are booting people off their global Social Media platforms for alleged hate speech.
The truth is, however, that TSN is unfortunately giving way too much media to a minor issue, and the issue's severity is called into question simply because the difference between Toronto's position in the standings and 12th place is a meager two points.
But what if Boston ended up 2nd and Toronto 5th for the sake of argument? Moot: neither of those teams finished remotely close to Tampa Bay. I don't have sympathy for teams who don't win their division, even if they're second in the league.
Back when it was 1 - 2 - 3 and then the rest, it was even worse, but Toronto was never victimized by this so nobody ever heard about it. You could theoretically finish in sixth place and play a team you had more points than, but still be away. That's because one division ("ahem the Southeast"
was often worse than the others. You finishing in sixth place was a magic number where you could take the easy team first round, yet only in sixth: in 5th, 7th, and 8th, you had poorer matchups. It was the worst of both worlds: some "rivalries" but everything a bit chaotic every year.
That's "chaotic"... not orderly. You could finish first in your conference and still have to play team BUBBA SMASH in the first round, beat em in six or seven games, and end up with a banged up line-up for the second round.
In Korean esports, they have something called the Gauntlet: when your team finishes first, they're playing in the finals, and the lower you finish, the more teams you have to get through to challenge the winner. That is orderly. In this system, Tampa and Calgary would automatically be guaranteed final four. But there is no bye in the NHL - just as well, it's hard to stay sharp if you haven't played in a few weeks, but at least you were rewarded for finishing high.
The current format fixed that stupid sixth place finish garbage, and other bad nuances of that 1-2-3 system (especially bringing back rivalries). Even in that old system, you still ended up playing old teams you hated playing. I believe Toronto had their way with Ottawa quite a bit back in the Sundin era. Crickets about those times, though, because Toronto was winning, but if they had been losing, we'd have heard all about how unfair the system is for some reason or another.
I like seeing Toronto Boston, Montreal Boston, Toronto Montreal matchups in the first round - doesn't matter where they finish, because there is usually so much animosity between division teams that things get thrown up in the air a little bit.
But what I don't like seeing in this current system has already happened a few times. Teams in one conference with more points than teams in the other, but not making the playoffs. This year? No different of course. Montreal will fail to make the playoffs with possibly 96 points (like Florida last year, Boston in 2015), and up to three teams in the west will have fewer points than they will, yet those teams in the west are in and Montreal are out.
Who has the better chance to win the cup? Montreal is better than those teams in the west and would have been competitive in the playoffs - they had a hard forecheck that teams on a nightly basis had a hard time dealing with - imagine playing seven games against that. But they won't make it.
The truth is that "wildcard" should mean wildcard... the four team pool of the wildcard should be both conferences. And the other thing I'd like to see adjusted is that I'd want the teams who had the most points to pick their opponent. This would mean that Tampa would first choose who they were playing out of the four wildcard teams.
If I were adjusting format even further, I'd have eight teams in the wildcard pool, and then right before the playoffs, have those eight teams play each other (seeded) in a best of one right before the playoffs.
I know I'll have a lot of hate for this post because there are a lot of Leafs fans out here, but I make this argument from a more universalist fan standpoint. My team is the Devils, and people thought I was a Boston fan when this happened to them in 2015 - I'm not. I hated it then, I hate it now. To me, the teams that win the conference should have the easiest path, rather than some random teams, but teams that don't win their conference - let that path be random: you don't win your conference, you don't get rewarded.
So this opens up one last antithesis. Tampa is going to play the better of Toronto or Boston in the second round (if they win the first round, which I don't think will be a problem), and they might end up having Boston, who is second in the league in points. This is not a reward for winning the president's trophy. Back in 1994, the Rangers and Devils were one and two in the league in points, and they only played in the conference finals. Perhaps there should be another amendment to the format so that this doesn't happen. Nevertheless, I can let it pass this year: I truly think Washington is truly the second best team in the conference and is a legitimate threat to take out Tampa again and repeat as Cup Champs. We'll see.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the playoffs.