You think this is happening in the Nashville-Anaheim series?
I was on a team flight, sitting with Ken Kal, Mickey Redmond and Ken Daniels not too long ago, as the three gentlemen discussed NHL realignment. As the fourth estate, I decided to listen as the hockey experts had a discussion any puck loving geek would enjoy. Who would move from what conference to the other? How many games each division would play against each other? Various travel scenarios that would benefit a Western Conference club sitting in the Eastern time zone and whatnot.
That conversation crept its way into the back of my mind as I watch Boston and Montreal tangle for the fifth time in the last 10 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As Andrew Ference flips the bird to fans in Montreal and Max Pacioretty Tweets about the length of Brad Marchand’s nose. Those little things, stanchion hit notwithstanding, that make rivalries truly unique.
Say what you will about the Bruins and Canadiens being Original Six clubs. That’s not the reason why their first round series is so entertaining. As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, especially when it comes to the high intensity atmosphere of playoff hockey.
Before the NHL went to the current Eastern Conference/Western Conference format for the 1993-94 season, qualifying for the playoffs was done by a divisional basis. As were the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, meaning that any club that wanted to win the title would have to beat two divisional foes to do so. With an already unbalanced schedule, designed specifically to create those coveted regional rivalries, it may not be a bad idea to reexamine this format in the near future.
Of course, in the glorious, nearly 120-year-old history of sport’s most prestigious trophy, playoff formats have come and gone. In the early 1980’s, teams would be seeded from 1-16, regardless of division or geography, creating first round matchups between Buffalo and Vancouver, Philadelphia and Edmonton and the New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings.
The league got its act together in 1982, sticking the Red Wings in a division with the North Stars, Blackhawks, Blues and Maple Leafs, all of whom would serve as regional rivals for more than a decade. Though times weren’t as prosperous, Detroit met Chicago in a playoff series in 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989. Boston played Hartford and Montreal, the Islanders saw the Capitals, Devils and Rangers, and Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton would battle for Canadian bragging rights.
What made the Detroit-Colorado rivalry so unique, like the Bruins and Canadiens currently, was the fact that it defied the odds. The two clubs played each other in 96, 97, 99, 2000 and 2002. They consistently spent to compete with each other, using the financial edge both had to create the existence of a rivalry the NHL has never seen before. In 2001, the Avs were the top seed, while Detroit was the second seed. Detroit was the two and Colorado the three in 2003. And the two clubs were a Game 7 goal between Calgary and Vancouver away from meeting in the second round series back in 2004.
You just don’t see it anymore.
As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, but having a geographically friendly playoff format helps as well. With the teams seeded by placement in the conference, our road to the Stanley Cup could go through Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver. Not only do you lose the rivalry factor, but the frequent filer miles start to build up after a while.
How could you hypothetically divide the Western Conference?
PACIFIC: Vancouver/San Jose/Anaheim / Los Angeles / Calgary / Edmonton / Phoenix
MIDWEST: Detroit/ Nashville / Colorado / Chicago / Dallas / St. Louis / Minnesota / Columbus
This is just one man’s opinion, but feel free to throw out your own thoughts. Under this format, the opportunity exists for San Jose-Los Angeles-Anaheim, or Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver, or Detroit-Chicago-St. Louis-Minnesota, to see each other in the playoffs on a regular basis, creating those rivalries that then carry over into an unbalanced, division heavy, NHL regular season schedule.