Since the switch to the divisional playoff format system, it hasn’t been uncommon to see two high-ranked teams from the same division play each other in the first round. While that does mean some great rivalry matches early on in the playoffs, it has also been controversial for its structure that eliminates good teams perhaps too quickly.
Case in point: If the playoffs started today, we would see the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs play each other in the first round despite being the second and third best teams in the Eastern Conference by record. Because the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning are the all-but-certain Atlantic Division winners, however, that means one of Boston and Toronto will be out after the first round.
On Thursday, noted Bruins pest Brad Marchand weighed in on the league’s playoff format with some spicy takes. He is decidedly not a fan of the system.
Under the old conference playoffs system, the No. 2 Bruins and No. 3 Leafs would be playing against the No. 7 Hurricanes and No. 6 Penguins respectively in the first round under today’s standings. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals would be regarded as a No. 4 seed, whereas under the divisional playoff system they are essentially a No. 2 seed if they win the Metropolitan Division.
Any team that has the Stanley Cup in mind will have to go through other similarly-minded contenders at some point in the playoffs, but certainly, teams in the Bruins’ or Leafs’ position face a tougher gauntlet under the current system. It’s a valid argument.
Even Steven Stamkos, the captain of the runaway NHL-best Lightning, made similar remarks while referencing the Bruins and the Leafs in the playoff picture.