NHL discussing extension of current playoff format

During Saturday Headlines the panel discussed the Senators looking for a hockey operations president, the return of both Quinn Hughes and Austin Watson as well as if there will be any changes to the current NHL playoff format.

With the post-season almost upon us, ’tis the season for the annual playoff format debate.

“There’s some debate about how long the current divisional playoff format will last, and there were discussions on Friday between the NHL and the NHLPA about extending the current format for next season,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said during Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “There still is an agreement in place, they’re going to speak again next week, and it does sound like that will probably be done on a one-year basis.”

The current bracket-based playoff format, which tasks top teams with getting out of their division (thus encouraging more divisional rivalries) came into effect in the 2013-14 season. Prior to that, the format was simply conference-based, pitting the top team in the conference against the eighth seed, the second against the seventh, and so on.

One look at the Atlantic Division shows why the format could be seen as flawed. Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto are currently in the top five of the league’s standings and top three in the Eastern Conference, yet it seems inevitable that the Bruins and Maple Leafs will be forced to play one another once again instead of facing a lower-seeded opponent outside the division.

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos used those two clubs as an example when he questioned the fairness of today’s format during a media availability earlier this month.

“I think from a perspective of what you’re grinding 82 games for during a season is to finish as high as you can so you can have that advantage come playoffs,” Stamkos told reporters. “I don’t think that’s an advantage to Toronto or Boston, to be what could be the top three teams in the whole league from one division and then have to play that team in the first round. I don’t think that’s right.”

It seems every division takes a turn with this issue, with Pittsburgh and Washington often running into each other in the Metropolitan.

“There is more concern from players than in the past about the way this format is working,” said Johnston. “I think players would like to know if it’s working the way the league intended in terms of fan interest, some business types of things … So don’t be surprised if we hear about a new playoff format in the near future.”

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