NHL Parity, Playoffs, and Predictions

Good afternoon fellow Rotogrinders. Today has been a little bit of a slow day so I needed a little “extra” to do. During the holidays I was talking with some in-laws and I brought up the topic of the #1 seed in both the Eastern and Western Conference going down. I wanted to get to the bottom of what happened, why, and if this was going to be a trend that continues. We’ve seen it before (an 8 seed winning it all) as recently as the 2012 LA Kings. They are also the only North American sports team to do so. So let’s get to the bottom of all this.

NHL Parity
This was one of the first things that got brought up to me. Is there too much parity in the NHL? I can see a case being made for both sides of this argument. So I’ll try and layout just a few reasons on each side and try to bring it together at the end and allow you guys to make your own decisions. If I had more time I’d lay out some previous playoffs stats but I guess I just don’t want to delve that deep for a quick little piece.

  • Too Much Parity
    With both the #1 seeds out of the playoffs in round 1 a great argument can be made there is too much parity in the NHL. I get that teams that make the playoffs are supposed to be good but when they sweep, not just beat the top competition, things seem a little off. I mean all the Wild Cards made it through round one! And to make matters worse, this is the first time since 1967 that has happened. Imagine the Pistons sweeping the Bucks (yeah the opposite happened) or the Warriors losing to the Clippers (maybe this isn’t so far-fetched). You just don’t see it happen. Yeah you can point out outlier performances but there is no doubt in my mind NHL hockey does have the most parity because all it takes is a hot goalie and a couple bounces to go your way and you can win it all.
    There are a couple reasons for these discrepancies. One of them is a single player (besides a goalie) cannot carry his team alone and “take over” like somebody could for basketball. It’s also impossible because NBA “stars” get close to 40 minutes or more minutes a night where NHL defensemen are capped at about 30 and forwards are capped at about 25 minutes. The next thing is the salary cap. In the “pre” salary cap days you had NHL teams that were stacked and teams could always add the prototypical “Cup Chaser” at the deadline with little consequences. I mean just look at the 2002 Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings that had 9 Hall of Famers (and possibly more)!!! Now there is a reasonable (maybe “too” reasonable) salary cap so this kind of thing could never happen again. I don’t want to really get into the “luxury tax” that the NHL could implement like other leagues. It’s looking like the salary cap is going to keep going up so maybe we see more teams with a “few” extra stars.
  • Right Amount of Parity
    There is nothing better than a team feeling like they can compete against the #1 seed. Going into every NHL playoffs I believe teams feel that and even believe it. In the NBA on the other hand like already mentioned, the Pistons knew they had no chance in that series! I would say the same as the Clippers but they are at least “competing”. The fact of the matter is there is little separation between the 2-8 spots (107-90 points). I like not having any “super” teams personally. One could argue that the Lightning were close but we saw how that played out. The regular season grind takes its toll. I think the Lightning were too busy “chasing records” and not worrying about just getting their guys “rested” enough for the first series. A “hot” goalie can also stop a team in its tracks and we’ve seen that time and time again in the playoffs. Bobrovski has won the Vezina (best goalie) before and after a rough season he was looking more like that guy in the playoffs. So I guess what I’m saying is it can take all the way up to the end of the season for a team to reach its potential. Not all do, but playoffs make players prosper. I imagine this is what the fans want but who am I to say.
    How do you feel on the issue of NHL parity?

NHL Playoff Formats
With how the playoffs have been playing out so far there are some questions as to whether the playoff format should be changed again (ESPN). There are a couple suggestions.

  1. Seed each conference 1-8 regardless of division. This would be going back to the previous pre-2013 format before teams moving conferences. I could see this happening again after this year. That does not change the Lightning unfortunate situation or the Western Conference for that matter. It would have changed the East and looked like this:
    TB/CBJ
    BOS/CAR
    WSH/PIT (what we always want to avoid early)
    NYI/TOR
    CGY/COL
    SJ/VGK (if ROW used as tiebreaker)
    NSH/DAL
    WPG/STL
  2. Go to Top 16 Teams in League. This change would not make any sense to me because it’s not as the NHL is the NBA and teams with under .500 records get into the playoffs. It would also be impossible with how far away some franchises are from one another. I agree there are years when conferences are imbalanced but this is not the solution to it. It would make for some intriguing matchups but this isn’t the Stanley Cup and I wouldn’t want two teams from the same conference playing one another. Maybe that part is the more traditionalist in me.
  3. Have a “Play In” Game. This is another idea I cannot get behind. NHL playoffs are meant to be 7 games series not one game play ins. Yes, maybe some other teams deserve a chance but I think this really actually makes the playoffs less exciting. Teams should be rewarded and if you’re #10/31 it should not be good enough to even warrant a playoff discussion. Maybe you feel different and would love this. For me this is not the MLB and something like that would just not work. Not to mention the extra fatigue of the “winners”.
  4. Go to a 3 Point System. Here is one idea I think I might be ok with. Basically instead of 2 points for a win you would get 3. You would only get 3 if it were a regulation win (maybe OT too but I’m not 100% what the proposal that has been talked about is). For the OT I believe you would get 2 and same for a shootout. And for an OT loss would get 1. This is one that would have a bigger impact on the standings (I’m not going to do the projections for this one) and some teams might pull away one way or the other. I think it’s important to not overvalue the ROW (regulation/overtime wins) stat, especially with play now being 3 on 3 in OT.
  5. Other. A couple other things have been talked about like reseeding after each round which would be a plus but eliminates the “rivalries” the NHL is trying to harp on. Another thing that has been done in the minor leagues as mentioned in the article is the top seed “picking” who they want to play. I like that but not sure how it would work.

Honestly in the end I would love to keep playoffs how they are but if I had to change I’d go with the 1-8 seeds again. What are your thoughts?

Predictions
It’s very difficult to say now who I think will win as everybody has a shot. Last night’s game surprised me a lot too. I never gave CAR any credit but man did they fight in that series. I’m not sure I can “root” for them as I really wanted the Caps to win! If I had to pick I say we see a SJ/BOS Stanley Cup Final. Specifically after that game 7 win for SJ I think that was the “kick” they needed to make it click, even if it didn’t come in the most “better team wins” way. I really thought TOR was going to win one (a series against BOS) finally but that was not in the cards. After the BOS whooping and the way Rask played they are looking good! I think SJ finally gets that Cup they’ve been waiting for. But like I said there are no more surprises as we got those out of the way early. So who do you got?

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