One NHL debate that never goes away is whether it’s time to change the divisional emphasis in the playoffs to add variety to the matchups.
Reseeding after the first round. Seed No. 1 through No. 8 in each division. Adding a No. 9 vs. No. 8 play-in game. Everyone has an idea.
That got us thinking about what the NHL playoffs would look like if it were seeded like the NCAA college basketball tournament, ranking teams No. 1 through No. 16 by points, regardless of geography.
Because David Poile and the Nashville Predators remind us of Duke, and the Colorado Avalanche have a Clemson possibly-in-the-tournament-after-a-long absence vibe, we decided to have fun and see how it looked.
More: Predators’ Pekka Rinne has become the Vezina Trophy favorite
The Winnipeg Jets, with their young talented squad, would be this year’s version of the Kentucky Wildcats, who are starting five freshmen. Guess that makes the Tampa Bay Lightning Villanova. Cooper is Jay Wright, and Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are like Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, two offensive powers.
Best draw: Nashville Predators. It’s a greater advantage for a No. 1 seed in a Sweet 16 format. If they win the first round, the Predators would play either the Wild or Sharks, two teams who are in the middle of the pack among playoff teams. They would certainly like these matchups better than facing the Ducks, a team that gave the Predators trouble last season; or the Kings, who have a storied playoff history; or the skilled Jets.
Worst draw: Boston Bruins. It’s not fair for the No. 3-seeded Bruins to have to travel cross-country for a Sweet 16 matchup, against the experienced, physical Ducks, no less. Nobody considers the Penguins an 11-seed, so that would not be a gift matchup even if they “upset” the Maple Leafs. The Bruins’ most favorable matchup would occur in the Final Four … if the Lightning aren’t their opponent.
Cinderella potential: Los Angeles Kings. Their corner of the bracket includes a team in its first season (Golden Knights), a team that has advanced to the playoffs once in in the past 10 seasons (Jets) and the inconsistent and disappointing Blue Jackets. The Kings, with Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, would gladly take their chances against the Predators in a Final Four matchup.
Current format vs. Sweet 16: Adopting the Sweet 16 format, nine teams from the West would be in the playoffs and only seven from the East. The Stars aren’t in the playoffs today under the current set-up, but the Stars are the No. 16 seed under the Sweet 16 format. The Devils would not qualify. In this 1-16 format, only one matchup features two divisional teams. You end up with some unique matchups, including Washington vs. Colorado. Would Capitals fans prefer that over Washington vs. Philadelphia?
Could it work? Aggravating travel is the primary reason why the Sweet 16 format would never receive widespread support. One lure of the divisional format is that it keeps travel bearable in the early rounds. In our Sweet 16 matchups, Anaheim would have a 5,200-mile round trip to play their first two games in Boston.
Fun comparison: Vegas Golden Knights and No. 9 Florida State. Vegas does not have big-name stars, just as the Seminoles are led in scoring by Phil Cofer and Braian Angola, who are both averaging around 13 points per game. But Vegas and Florida State are deep — the Golden Knights can roll four lines effectively, while Florida State utilizes a 10-man rotation. Add in the Seminoles’ upset of No. 1 Xavier in the NCAA tournament and the Golden Knights’ shocking run through this season and it’s hard not to see the parallels.
Conclusion: No matter what format you use, the four-round gauntlet is a challenging endeavor. The format doesn’t change the reality that Nashville will be the team to beat on one side of the bracket and Tampa Bay is No. 1 on the other side.
Contributing: Adam Woodard