Rewriting the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Format

Auston Matthews

For the 2013-14 season, the NHL implemented a drastic change to the playoff picture. Instead of taking the top eight teams in the conference, they split up into two divisions within each conference.

Rewriting the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Format

The system allows for each team to earn the right as best in their division, excluding the Wild Card spots. The only flaw of it, and it is a big one, is that it doesn’t reward the teams that outplayed their opponents in the conference.

For the most recent example, we’ll look at how this year’s matchups could have gone.

What It Actually Looked Like

Everyone knows that the structure looked like the one that follows:

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning-1 vs. New Jersey Devils-WC2

Boston Bruins-2 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs-3


Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals-1 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets- WC1

Pittsburgh Penguins-2 vs. Philadelphia Flyers-3


Central Division

Nashville Predators-1 vs. Colorado Avalanche-WC2

Winnipeg Jets-2 vs. Minnesota Wild-3


Pacific Division

Vegas Golden Knights-1 vs. Los Angeles Kings-WC1

Anaheim Ducks-2 vs. San Jose Sharks-3


As we saw in all but one first-round matchup, the first or second seed advanced. Then in the second round, again, all but one matchup had the higher seed advancing.

In the first two rounds, only 2/12 series went to a Game 7. The NHL loves when series go the distance because it boosts ratings and attention, so switching back may help in more than one way.

Converting back to a one through eight ranking system would reward the teams that performed well all season, while also having a higher chance that cross-divisional rivalries occur in the first two rounds, growing the NHL’s ratings.

Reverting Back to the Past

The playoff structure change actually creates a drastic shift in the matchups, excluding the first seed against the second Wild Card. If the teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences were ranked one through eight, the structure would be as follows:

Eastern Conference

1 Seed TBL vs. 8 Seed NJD

2 Seed BOS vs. 7 Seed CBJ

3 Seed TOR vs. 6 Seed PHI

4 Seed WAS vs. 5 Seed PIT


Western Conference

1 Seed NSH vs. 8 Seed COL

2 Seed WPG vs. 7 Seed LAK

3 Seed VGK vs. 6 Seed SJS

4 Seed MIN vs. 5 Seed ANA

What Matchups Looked Like This Year

Based on the “old school” style rankings, this year’s schedule is obviously completely out of order based on season performance. This is what this year’s actual matchups would have appeared as given the ranking style of the past.

Eastern Conference

1 Seed TB vs. 8 Seed NJ

2 Seed BOS vs. 3 Seed TOR


4 Seed WSH vs. 7 Seed CBJ

5 Seed PIT vs. 6 Seed PHI


Western Conference

1 Seed NSH vs. 8 Seed COL

2 Seed WPG vs. 4 Seed MIN


3 Seed VGK vs. 7 Seed LAK

5 Seed ANA vs. 6 Seed SJS

Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild were at the wrong end of the deal that was put into place in 2013. Both earned spots in the top four, but because of the system, were forced to give up home-ice advantage. Both teams lost in the first round to teams that had records that would put them in the top four of their respective conferences.

Meanwhile, the Penguins and Ducks were gifted that home ice despite recording fewer points than the Leafs and Wild in the regular season.

Second Round

Assuming all of the top seeds advance in the old structure, the structure would again look completely different than it turned out. Of course, the reality may have been different because the hockey world is imperfect, but that is why we love it. But for the sake of an example, the semi-finals would have looked like this:

Eastern Conference

1 Seed TBL vs. 4 Seed WSH

2 Seed BOS vs. 3 Seed TOR


Western Conference

1 Seed NSH vs. 4 Seed MIN

2 Seed WPG vs. 3 Seed VGK

Each matchup, except from the Nashville vs. Minnesota series has or is happening, but the outcomes could have totally changed. Boston could have waited an extra round to face the Maple Leafs, Toronto could have won at least one series with their young guns, and Nashville may have found themselves in the Conference Finals for two consecutive years.

Instead, the top two seeds in both the Eastern and Western Conference faced off in the second round, making it much more possible for a lower seed to reach the Conference Final after winning their second round series.

Time to Change Back?

All of this is hypothetical, but the old system rewarded the teams that put in the work all year. Teams have found that with the Wild Card opportunity, they could put their team in a weak division and try to make an easier run to the Conference Finals.

The old system creates rivalries within the entire conference, not just within the division, and makes the end goal of the regular season to do as well as possible.

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