Seeding could sabotage NHL playoff teams

BY foxsports • March 29, 2012

The NHL playoffs are about to be sabotaged, to some extent, by the league's senseless seeding process that reserves a top-three spot for each of the division winners in both conferences regardless of record.

Whether it realigns in the near future or not, the NHL needs to get rid of these unnecessary divisions and seed the teams by conference according to point totals.

Rewarding the division winners in this way is definitely going to affect this year's playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference.

The top three teams in the East all happen to be from the Atlantic Division: the New York Rangers (105 points), the Pittsburgh Penguins (100) and the Philadelphia Flyers (96).

Unfortunately, it appears that either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia will be eliminated in the first round because they'll have to play each other. Instead of being the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, they're probably going to be Nos. 4 and 5.

Great opening matchup, but not right.

Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins (93 points) are going to get the No. 2 seed by taking the Northeast Division.

Worse yet, the Florida Panthers (89 points) will be the No. 3 seed for winning the weak Southeast Division. The Panthers (37-24-15) have lost more games than they've won. They also have a minus-19 goal differential. They should be fighting for one of the final playoff spots, not a top-three seed.

It's not quite as bad in the Western Conference, but a lesser team also will benefit from this bad system. The winner of the Pacific Division (the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks or Phoenix Coyotes) should be no better than the No. 6 seed at this point.

Instead, the so-called division "champ" will get bumped to No. 3, which significantly alters the first-round pairings.

It appears the Detroit Red Wings or Nashville Predators are going to start out on the road as the No. 5 seed even though that team will have the fourth-most points and, technically, deserves home-ice advantage for the first round.

The divisions help with the unbalanced schedule in the NHL. Teams play more games against division rivals than they do the rest of their conference opponents.

That's only the logical reason for continuing to even have divisions, but it becomes a total farce when some of the better teams are severely penalized come playoff time.

It's a problem that the NHL can't ignore any longer. Not with what's about to happen this year.

WINGS' SILVER LINING

A little more than a month ago, the Red Wings were in contention for the Presidents' Trophy for most points in the league, which guarantees home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Now, after a series of major injuries that depleted the roster for several weeks, the Wings are in a battle for home ice in the first round. Instead of the No. 1 seed, they're going to be no better than No. 4.

Strangely enough, there is one advantage to this slide, which has seen Detroit win only five of its past 17 games: The Wings won't have to travel as much.

The No. 1 and 2 seeds are going to face a Western opponent in the first round, either Los Angeles, San Jose, Phoenix, Colorado or Calgary, depending on how the logjam for the final playoff spots shakes out.

Detroit, meanwhile, appears headed for first-round matchup with Nashville, which is an easier flight, only one time zone away, instead of two or three time zones.

A possible second-round series against the St. Louis Blues also would be an easy trip back and forth.

The past two times the Red Wings reached the Stanley Cup Finals, they started out against Columbus (2009) and Nashville (2008).

Granted, they've done it the other way, too, going West early and still surviving.

But in 2007, they wore down in the conference final with a long-distance route that included Calgary, San Jose and Anaheim.

Just as important as home ice, maybe more so in many cases, health and travel are also crucial factors in trying to make a playoff run for a team such as Detroit playing in the Western Conference.

Whether the Wings get healthy enough to bounce back remains to be seen. But they're going to get a bit of a break this time with the travel, a real silver lining to this late-season meltdown.

 QUICK HITTERS

• Is your interest in the NCAA tournament waning because of the one-and-done syndrome? It's finally taken a toll on mine.

Watching Kentucky's youngsters, who will move on to the NBA next season, toy with the rest of college basketball isn't enjoyable. I would rather see those guys go straight to the league rather than this one-year stopover that seems to cheapen the college game.

If your favorite team has become anybody who is playing Kentucky, I can't blame you.

• Let's say Victor Martinez didn't get injured and the Detroit Tigers didn't sign Prince Fielder. Would expectations be this high? Would they be the fashionable pick to win the World Series? Probably not.

And yet Martinez hit .330 last year and was uncanny in the way he came through in clutch situations to protect Miguel Cabrera ahead of him in the lineup.

Fielder should provide considerably more power than Martinez, but he's a .282 career hitter. He's not Cabrera or Albert Pujols. At least he hasn't been to this point in his career.

Bottom line: This dramatic increase in expectations for the Tigers is disproportionate to the production actually gained by replacing Martinez with Fielder.

• Based on season-win totals, the Tigers are projected to take the American League Central Division by 13 1/2 games. No other team is likely to finish even .500 in the division while most analysts expect the Tigers to win more than 90.

In other words, the Central is so dreadfully weak, it's basically a 162-game exhibition season for Detroit.

If you prefer competition, that's unfortunate.

Wake me up in October. That's when we'll find out if the expectations are realistic.  


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