No team gets screwed more often by the NHL’s divisional format than the Carolina Hurricanes, and it isn’t even close.
Sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs would want to have a word or two, given that two of the perpetual top teams in the league sit at the top of their division, and everyone else in the Atlantic outside Tampa and Boston is essentially playing for third place. But have you looked at the teams below the Leafs? Buffalo? Ottawa? The hilariously woebegone Red Wings?
By comparison, there’s no easy competition in the Metro. And so, of course it would come to pass that the one Eastern Conference matchup in the proposed 24 team playoff format that’s within a division is the one involving the Hurricanes — and not only that, it’s against the one team that they seemingly cannot beat no matter what, the New York Rangers.
No wonder they voted against it.
Obviously there are no easy solutions to neatly wrap up a season that has been unlike any we’ve ever seen or, hopefully, we’ll ever see again, but it’s especially galling when you look at the standings around the league and see that the Hurricanes would have had a bye — a bye! — in the West, yet in the East they’re staring directly down the barrel of not even making the “real” playoffs.
Jordan Martinook, the Hurricanes’ NHLPA representative, gets it. “You play so hard throughout the season to put yourself in position to make the playoffs,” he told the media on a conference call this morning. “It just kind of limits our odds and makes us play an extra series.”
“It doesn’t really benefit the teams that are in 5, 6, 7, 8, so it kind of hinders those teams and obviously gives a lot to 9, 10, 11 and 12,” Martinook continued, in the understatement of the season. And it certainly doesn’t benefit the Hurricanes in any way, even more so than the other teams affected.
How unbalanced are the two conferences? There are seven teams in the East with a points percentage of .580 or higher, five in the Metro alone. (And if you drop the cutoff just one thousandth of a point, you add two others.) By contrast, only five teams in the West — again, the same number as the Metro has by itself — make the cutoff. The West’s 6-seed, the Nashville Predators, get the Arizona Coyotes, who are four games over .500. The Hurricanes get the Rangers, who would be an 8-seed in the West.
If we establish that there’s going to be very little travel, which makes plenty of sense from both a logistical and a public health perspective, and the NHL is insistent on using brackets and not reseeding, then why are we even bothering with a conference format? Just seed the teams 1-24 and assign them to game sites at random. Here, have a look:
Site 1: Minnesota? Raleigh? Columbus? Who knows?
- (1) Boston Bruins BYE; plays winner of (16) Nashville Predators vs. (17) Vancouver Canucks
- (8) Vegas Golden Knights BYE; plays winner of (9) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (24) Montreal Canadiens
- (5) Washington Capitals BYE; plays winner of (12) Edmonton Oilers vs. (21) Minnesota Wild
- (4) Tampa Bay Lightning BYE; plays winner of (13) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (20) Winnipeg Jets
Site 2: Las Vegas
- (3) Colorado Avalanche BYE; plays winner of (14) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. (19) Calgary Flames
- (6) Philadelphia Flyers BYE; plays winner of (11) New York Islanders vs. (22) Arizona Coyotes
- (7) Pittsburgh Penguins BYE; plays winner of (10) Dallas Stars vs. (23) Chicago Blackhawks
- (2) St. Louis Blues BYE; plays winner of (15) Florida Panthers vs. (18) New York Rangers
Tell me where this falls apart, because I can’t see that it does. Sure, you could make the case that re-seeding would be beneficial, but if that’s the sacrifice you have to make to get a fairer playoff overall, such is life. Five of the eight byes go to teams from the East, unquestionably the stronger conference. You’d get a potential playoff matchup of Alex Ovechkin against Connor McDavid. The Leafs would still get drawn against one of the Atlantic’s big two. Any way you slice it, it just makes sense.
But instead, the Hurricanes will roll merrily along, screwed again by the neighborhood they’re in.