There might be some complications in the future, but the first spring of the NHL’s new playoff format has turned out to be genius.
The NHL switched from the easy math of three five-team divisions in both of its conferences to an imbalanced formula of two divisions in each conference. This put a pair of eight-team divisions in the East and a pair of seven-team divisions in the West.
That meant there was a 50 percent chance to reach the playoffs in the East and a 57 percent chance to the reach the playoffs in the West.
You didn’t hear much whining about that this winter, what with the West setting a much-higher standard that the East for points required to stay in the playoff race.
The controversial part of the realignment was to guarantee three playoff spots for each division, with a pair of wild cards. There’s a possibility for the future that you get an extra-weak division, where the third-place team is in the 80s in points and there’s a sixth-place team in the 90s, and then there will be some howling.
There also was a point this season when it appeared the Wild would wind up with more points as the fourth-place team in the Central than would the L.A. Kings as the third-place team in Pacific … yet wind up behind them in the seeding because of wild-card status.
That didn’t turn out to the case, as the Kings finished with 100 points to the Wild’s 98. And, getting the seventh seed turned out to create the best match the Wild could have gotten, winding up against Colorado’s regular-season overachievers.
The new playoff format was designed to build greater rivalries with division opponents and it turned out to be close to perfect. The Nos. 2 and 3 teams from each division were bracketed into the first round. The No. 1 seed from each division would play a wild-card. As it turned out, seven of the eight series have been within the division.
The Wild and the Avalanche will dislike one another more than ever after this series is over, thanks to Matt Cooke’s cheap shot, followed by the strong likelihood the Ws, as slight underdogs, are going to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win.
The Blues and the Blackhawks will have ratcheted things up another notch when this first-round series is over, thanks to Brent Seabrook, and the tremendous level of competition.
The Penguins and the Bluejackets? I don’t know how much the Penguins saw Columbus as a rival, but they are going to feel that way come next season after the feisty work by Todd Richards’ underdogs.
Detroit’s welcome to the Eastern Conference could not have turned out better for the NHL, what with a first-round series against another original sixer, Boston. Doc Emrick has been a master of weaving in historical notes on past Red Wings-Bruins playoff showdowns within his immaculate play-by-play.
The new playoff format has been a triumph of marketing for Gary Bettman and the NHL, which is something this commissioner and this league have not been accused of on a regular basis.
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