Point/Counterpoint: Should a change to the playoff seeding format be made?

Welcome to the newest edition of “Point/Counterpoint,” where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes present both sides of one particular issue with their own unique view and flair. This week, Kim P. and Craig F. square off over the NHL rule that grants each divisional leader a top-three seed in the conference – and an automatic trip to the playoffs.

Point: Kim P.

It is an NHL rule that fans have debated on time and time again: the one which states that the winners of each division are guaranteed one of the top three spots in their conference. It’s a way to reward those teams for finishing above their division rivals and ensure that they have a good spot in playoff seeding. It also grants them home-ice advantage (automatically given to the top-seeded teams). Great for those teams, but is it great for the league in general?

There are a few issues that this rule creates.

First, think about those teams that truly earn their top-three spots. For example, the New York Rangers scored 109 points during the regular season for first place in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia should have finished second and third, with point totals of 108 and 103, respectively.

But thanks to that rule, neither of those two teams finished within the top three seeds. Boston (102 points) and Florida (94) took second and third place. New York worked their butts off to earn those 109 points and first place in the East, and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both had impressive seasons. Boston had an impressive one as well, but there were three teams that finished the season with more points than Florida. Those three teams got a little screwed over by that good old rule. Well, not necessarily Pittsburgh, because in fourth place, they still got home ice advantage, but Philadelphia and New Jersey were definitely affected.

Another issue is that the rule affects which teams make the playoffs. Say, for example, teams in a division aren’t necessarily playing their best hockey. The top team in the division finishes the season with, say, 93 points. Their division title automatically earns them a spot in the playoffs and one of the top-three spots. But what if there are eight other teams who finish with more points in the regular season? One of them becomes the odd one out thanks to the rule, and that’s unfair to a team that outperforms the one who won their division with 93 points.

But the biggest issue is that it takes away from the whole point of the playoff format. The first-place team plays the eighth-place team, second and seventh, so on and so forth. The point of that is to separate the good teams from the better teams, the boys from the men, so to speak. The problem with this rule being in place is that it doesn’t completely allow the teams to be sorted out by their performance during the season. In the East, it should have been NYR-PIT-PHI-BOS-NJD-FLA-WAS-OTT.

Instead, thanks to the rule, it was NYR-BOS-FLA-PIT-PHI-NJD-WAS-OTT. The whole point of the seeding system is to separate the better-performing teams, when, in reality, it’s based on division winners first. This is relating back to the first point made here, but certain teams outperformed other teams that wound up above them in the seeding, and the formatting just isn’t fair to those teams.

I understand the point of guaranteeing the winners of each division a playoff spot. The league wants to reward them for clinching their division – and rightfully so; otherwise, what’s to fight for in each division? However, this rule takes away from some teams who outperform those automatically in the playoffs thanks to a technicality, and sometimes even prevents them from making the playoffs altogether. And that’s not right.

Counterpoint: Craig F.

Although I agree it doesn’t make sense sometimes, and that it isn’t fair to some teams, I believe the format should stay intact for a couple of reasons.

For one, the idea of the division title earning a top three seed in the conference instills rivalries and passion between clubs. All rivalries in sports are based on either geography or divisional set-ups. When you see a team so many times in one season, the meetings are likely going to lead to more hatred between the clubs and no team wants to lose to a club they hate.

With this in mind, most races for the divisional title are close. Sometimes this plan doesn’t always work out due to the fact there may be one stacked team in a weak division (Vancouver Canucks winning Northwest by 21 points), but it can create drama that fans across the league are willing to take interest in, even if it doesn’t affect their club in the postseason (Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles fighting for the Pacific Division). Granted, the trio of Pacific Division clubs would have been duking it out for the last few playoff spots anyway, there was a lot more intensity and passion since the reward was much greater. One could also argue that the fight for the three spot in the Western Conference put these clubs in playoff-mode before the postseason, which might explain why the only two teams left in the west are from the Pacific Division.

If it wasn’t for the current playoff-setup the Flyers and Penguins would have not been fighting each other for home-ice advantage in the last week of the regular season. This means there wouldn’t have been that ridiculous brawl at the end of the game on April Fools’ Day that escalated the heat for the clubs’ first-round series.

I’m aware Danny Briere was hurt in the process and the possible emotional victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins (favorites to win the Stanley Cup) in the opening round could mean the fall of the Flyers (another Stanley Cup contender) in the second round, but Briere was fine and it creates must-win games in the regular season as opposed to just the playoffs (which may not be good for Philly at the moment, but it is good for the overall growth of the league).

Rivalries are a great thing in hockey. The war for a division title is something that strengthens the hatred between a pair of clubs. Some divisions have much deeper rivalries than others, but the weaker divisions will slowly see the hatred between clubs grow over time.

The bad blood between the Flyers and Penguins, along with the Canadiens and Bruins as well as the Blackhawks and Red Wings, all started with divisional battles and playoff meetings, something the Coyotes and Kings have had plenty of this season due to the current playoff format.