Seed system rewards division champs over top teams

By Dan Gelston

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 28 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The top three teams in Eastern Conference are listed in their proper order in the Atlantic Division.

The New York Rangers.

The Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Philadelphia Flyers.

There's no denying those three teams have been the class of the conference this season. The Rangers will likely get their just reward for finishing first: The No. 1 seed in the playoffs and home ice for as many rounds as they're alive chasing the Stanley Cup. Fair enough.

The Flyers and Penguins? Well, if the regular season ended Wednesday, they'd play each other in the first round, and the Flyers would have to trudge their 96-and-counting point total to Pittsburgh for Games 1 and 2 — and, of course, Game 7, if needed.

Not so fair.

But that's just the way it is in the NHL, where division winners are seeded in the top three spots for the postseason ahead of teams with the whopping point totals. In the East, that means division leaders Boston (Northeast; 93 points) and Florida (Southeast; 89 points) are placed ahead of the Penguins (100 points), Flyers and New Jersey Devils (92 points entering Wednesday night) in the playoff race.

In the West, Pacific Division leader San Jose (88 points) is trying to hold off Dallas and Phoenix (87 points apiece) for a division crown and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. That would put the champion ahead of Detroit, Nashville and Chicago, who all have cracked the 90-point total. Those three teams play in the Central Division and lag behind leader St. Louis.

In the NHL, teams can get rewarded with home ice even with a worse record and fewer points than their opponent.

Does this need to be fixed? Is there another way?

If the players have any say, the bugs in the playoff format need to be addressed.

"I hope they do evaluate it because it's antiquated," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said.

The NHL has this system because of an unbalanced schedule that forces teams to play their division rivals six times and non-division rivals four times. The league also wants to make division races matter over the course of the grueling 82-game season.

That doesn't matter to some players, who believe the best teams should start with the weaker ones in the postseason, same as other leagues. Not that it necessarily matters (i.e., Duke vs Lehigh in the NCAA tournament).

"Why not look at strength of schedule," said Miller, a member of the NHL's competition committee. "You can almost do like an NCAA thing where, at the end of the year, everybody ranks how you did against top-tier teams. But that gets complicated. That's just my idea. I haven't heard anybody else talk about it. And I don't even know if it's really smart, because we do play everybody. As for college, everybody doesn't play against each other."

Here's the real kicker: In the East, the Devils are in great position in sixth place, not the Penguins or Flyers in fourth and fifth. The Devils would open against the Panthers — so the Flyers would be better off losing some of their final games instead of trying to gobble points. The Flyers wouldn't do that, of course, but this kind of flawed system leads to fans playing with those kinds of conspiracy scenarios.

"I think it's easy to pick apart the system this year because we have four teams in the division this year that are doing really well," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "There's a reason why that rule's in place. I mean yeah, it's been talked about this year where maybe the division winner automatically makes the playoffs but you seed them where they'd be seeded, so Florida would be eighth or seventh, same with Boston.

"Maybe that's a better way of doing it."

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