It’s not hard to find a critic of the NHL’s current playoff format, but it refreshing to hear criticism come from a player, particularly one of the game’s biggest names. Asked by the media the other night how he felt about the current format and it’s effect on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos has this to say (video courtesy of TSN):
It is what it is. It’s been that way for a while now… I understand where they’re coming from from a marketing perspective, wanting to get some rivalries early on, but 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. 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 is what it is, you can’t change it now, but I don’t think it’s the most fair in terms of why you play and the advantage you’re supposed to have come playoff time.
Stamkos very clearly demonstrates the core problem with current format which is, in an effort to improve divisional rivalries and boost TV ratings in the postseason, the league is devaluing the entire regular season. As Stamkos references, the Bruins and Maple Leafs are inching closer to locking in the second and third spots in the Atlantic Division and a guaranteed meeting in the first round, despite the fact that they are both top-five teams in the league standings. While he avoids seeming like he’s complaining by framing the argument through Toronto and Boston, Stamkos also knows that the format is a detriment to Tampa Bay, who are awarded with a first-round win this year by likely having to play the next-best team in the conference in the second round. Similarly, the current format will prevent the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, both top-three teams in the league, from meeting in the Western Conference final, as they will be forced to play in the second round per the current divisional emphasis. A strong performance in the regular season should offer more of an advantage to teams in the postseason, Stamkos states. For exmaple, by the old 1-8 playoff format, the Bruins and Maple Leafs could not meet until the second round and neither could play the Lighting until the conference final, while the Sharks and Flames also could not play until the conference final. The NHL has not expressed any desire to change this current format, but with a star of Stamkos’ caliber speaking out with a very logical argument, perhaps they will begin to look at changes.
- New York Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner is back from injury and ready to put an end to skaters crashing the net and running over goalies, as Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk did to him earlier this month. Lehner told Brett Cygralis of the New York Post that he won’t be a victim again. Instead, he’s advocating that goalies do a better job of defending themselves, perhaps with some leniency from the referees, to teach skaters that there are consequences for these dangerous plays:
Got to be honest, everyone always does it on purpose… Plays like that, all of sudden, you tear a knee and [your] career is over. They’re the ones that do it. It’s still part of the game. Maybe I need to brace myself more for next time. Next time someone comes in, I’ll protect myself and we’ll see if they do it again. I think it’s a joke… You look around at all the different hits and all the different stuff, it’s so inconsistent… I don’t think they really know what they’re doing. This is a problem around the league that a lot of goalies get run into like that. I cannot complain about it, but maybe all the goalies should start protecting ourselves with our blockers and our sticks, and they shouldn’t call anything about that if we do it.
- Toronto Maple Leafs star John Tavares has a problem with a lack of calls in net too, but different from Lehner’s. Tavares is sick of non-calls for the goal being intentionally knocked off it’s moorings. The Maple Leafs went down 5-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night, but mounted an impressive comeback to come within a goal of tying the game. However, in the waning seconds of the game with goalie pulled and possession in the Chicago zone, the net came loose and play was stopped and Tavares at least suspects Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia of doing it on purpose. Tavares told the media after the game, including TSN’s Kristen Shilton, that there should be more to it than just a whistle and a face-off:
If that’s on purpose by them, especially in the last couple minutes in big situations, I would love to see that be a challenge at some point. When we get that kind of pressure, that’s kind of a free out if that’s what happened. I didn’t really see it, but…”