Examining the NHL’s Current Playoff Format: The Flaws Are Showing

T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have delivered an excellent second round matchup in the 2016 NHL Playoffs.  The games have been very competitive, and the star power in this matchup is hard to beat.

The one letdown of this matchup is that it is taking place in the 2nd round.  With the NHL’s new playoff format, the top two Eastern Conference teams are facing each other early in the playoffs.  Some might argue that this matchup would be better if it took place in the Eastern Conference Finals.


Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 4.09.45 PM

Under the former 1-8 playoff format, the Capitals and Penguins would have had different opponents in the 1st round in this year’s playoffs.  The Capitals would have faced the Detroit Red Wings, while the Penguins would have faced the Philadelphia Flyers.

It is tough to speculate what would have happened if the old system was still in place today.  But if the Capitals and Penguins would have both ran the table in the first two rounds under the old system, a dream Eastern Conference Finals would have happened.


The new playoff format was designed and put into place to emphasize more regional matchups in the playoffs.  Between both conferences, it guarantees at least 4 first round matchups that are within the same division.

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Here is the problem with the new format.  It does not necessarily guarantee regular season winning and success.  Why should the Washington Capitals have to play the 2nd best team in the Eastern Conference in the second round?  The best teams in the NHL should have the easiest path mathematically to the Stanley Cup.  The best teams in the NHL should have to face the lowest seeds early in the playoffs.


lightning islanders

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

The Lightning have benefited under the new playoff format in this year’s playoffs.  The Lightning, who would be the 6th seed under the old playoff format, have gotten to play the 8th seed Red Wings and 5th seed NY Islanders.

The Lightning have avoided the NHL’s top 3 Eastern Conference teams (WSH, PITT, FLA) in the first two rounds of the 2016 Playoffs.  Under the old system, the Lightning would have had to face the Florida Panthers in the first round.

On top of the Lightning avoiding the top seeds in the East, they had home-ice advantage over an Islanders team that had more points than them in the 2nd round.


The new system does not really award-winning and it does not necessarily reward the teams with the highest point totals.

If the NHL wants to continue with the current format, then the league needs to add re-seeding after the first round concludes.  If there is playoff re-seeding, it should guarantee that the teams with the most points continue to have home-ice advantage.

Assuming the Capitals, Penguins, Islanders, and Lightning all made it to the second round of this year’s playoffs with playoff re-seeding, the 2nd round matchups would have been:

Capitals vs. Lightning
Penguins vs. Islanders

Teams should be rewarded for winning games.  Under the new playoff format, that is not necessarily the case.  The Penguins and Capitals should not be facing each other this early in the playoffs.

It is tough to grasp why the Tampa Bay Lightning had home-ice advantage in the 2nd round of the playoffs, and the Pittsburgh Penguins currently do not.  Why should a team with a lower seed be rewarded with that particular advantage?

By: George Foussekis

About George Foussekis

I am a sports fanatic. I love hockey and football, and I enjoy writing about my two favorite sports. I am a proud Old Dominion University alum.
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1 Response to Examining the NHL’s Current Playoff Format: The Flaws Are Showing

  1. BlowCapsBlow says:

    Haha seems like excuses for the elimination, knowing the result that was to follow. The spread between the teams was nothing, this is a nonissue.

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