If you're having some issues figuring out the NHL's new playoff format, you're not alone. A few of the Penguins players haven't quite nailed it down either.
Along with realignment of the divisions and conferences, the NHL introduced a new format for the postseason. Each conference, now comprised of two divisions, would have eight teams qualify for the postseason but the potential matchups are radically different.
In the new format, the first three teams in each division qualify for the postseason. The last two teams to qualify will reach the postseason based on their record regardless of division. Two last two teams will be the wild card teams and will face the two division winners in the first round. The second and third place teams in their respected divisions will square off in the first round as well.
The second round is where it could get a bit confusing. Unlike seasons past, there is no re-seeding for the second round. Regardless of who wins in the first round, the bracket is set.
If the playoffs started today, the Eastern Conference matchups would look like this:
The Penguins would face the Red Wings in the first round. If the Penguins were to win, they would be guaranteed to face the winner of the Rangers-Flyers series. The only way they could face the Bruins, Blue Jackets, Canadiens or Lightning would be in the conference final.
The NHL has said the reasoning behind that was to place a greater importance on divisional rivalries. That would enable lesser travel for the first two rounds, especially in the Western Conference and it would give national broadcasters a better chance at high profile rivalries in major American markets during the early rounds. NBC is probably a lot more comfortable with Penguins-Red Wings or Rangers-Flyers as first-round series than Rangers-Lightning or Penguins-Canadiens for example.
The old format offered a 1-through-8 seeding process with the top seeded team playing the lowest seeded team regardless of divisions. The three division winners in each conference were given the top three seeds automatically. That caveat ruffled a few feathers around the league as often times, the third division winner had poorer records than the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds.
The new format can be a little tricky, even for those who are directly affected by it. A sampling of Penguins veterans revealed some varied responses in terms of understanding and and preference.
How long did it take to figure out the new format once it was revealed?
Craig Adams (right), right winger – “Not very long. It’s obviously different. It’s not something we [the NHLPA] supported necessarily. It’s the way it’s going now. We’ll see how it goes.”
Brooks Orpik, defenseman – “ I still haven’t figured it out to be honest with you. I understand the first round. I don’t know where it goes from there.”
Tomas Vokoun, goaltender – “It’s not that complicated. It’s more about the second round than the first round. The first round is pretty much the same. They call it ‘wild card’ but it’s basically the No. 7 and 8 teams. After that, you play in your division. It’s a little bit different but not a lot.
Sidney Crosby, center – “Not until last week. I feel like it was always something we talked about it but nobody really had a real firm answer on it. We played with different ideas but we didn’t have the exact answer. The confusing part was whether the wild card [team] was in your division if you still played that team or if you switched over.
Rob Scuderi, defenseman – “The first round seems to play out like it normally would. It’s a new take on it but I still think you’ve got to beat good teams to get to the [Stanley Cup Final]. What ever the format is, you usually have to beat good teams.”
Jussi Jokinen, left winger – “I think some guys, it probably took a little bit more [time]. You talk to some of our guys, they don’t know how it’s going to go. I got it right away. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.
Brandon Sutter, center – “I think I just heard about it a week ago to be honest with you. Some guys aren’t too sure about it. I think I’ve got it down. I don’t know why they changed it. I’m not so sure.”
Marc-Andre Fleury (right), goaltender – “It took a little reading to make sure I got it right. I think we’ve just been used to the same thing for so long. It’s a little different. It should be interesting.”
Paul Martin, defenseman – “Not too long. Not too different. It looks weird I think when you look at the [standings]. For the wild card, it’s obviously something new and different. Once you have it explained a couple of times, you figure it out.”
Tanner Glass, left wing – “I looked at it two days ago online. One read-through and I think I got it.”
Matt Niskanen (top, with Detroit's Tomas Tatar), defenseman – “I didn’t quite get it until someone explained it to me three weeks ago. So I had no clue. I thought it had something to do with the divisions but I wasn’t sure how the wild card think worked exactly.”
Do you have a preference with either this format or the old 1-through-8 format?
Adams - "I don’t know. I think time will have to tell. If you’re always getting the game playoff matchups year after year, some people don’t like that. We’ll see how it plays out."
Orpik - "It’s way too complicated. I’m not sure what was wrong with [the old format]. It was pretty cut and dry. Pretty easy to understand I think a lot of people thought the top three division shouldn’t be the top three. You should be seeded one through eight. The winner of that [third] division… if you’re seventh, you get seventh. You don’t get third. I thought that was the only problem guys had with it. I thought it was a lot easier to understand.
Vokoun - "I think either way is fine. Bringing Detroit into the east is a good thing. Other than that, it’s fine. It was fine before too. It doesn’t change much.
Crosby (right) - “I liked the old one a little better. I think either way, the top eight [teams are in]. It’s just set up a bit differently. I could see the thought behind divisional matchups. But [in the first round], we could possibly not be in the division. It’s had to understand a little bit."
Scuderi - “Not necessarily. You’ve got to beat good teams to get there. Regardless of what format they make, you’ve to beat an upper echelon team to get there.”
Jokinen - “I kind of like it. It’s more proper rivalries. It’ll be some of those big rivalries. … We’ll have to wait a couple of more years to see how it goes. So far, I like the idea.”
Sutter - “One through eight just seems to make more sense to me. I’m not sure why they wanted to change it. I don’t know what the reason was. If you finish first, you should play the eighth place team. If you finish second, you should play seventh and so on.”
Fleury - “I guess we’ll see how it goes for this year. I’ll have a better idea after.”
Martin (right) - “Not really. You still got to put up the points. You still have to win your games. I don’t really have a preference. I’ll tell you after the playoffs.”
Glass - “I don’t care to be honest. I think this one might kind of cool because we might get more divisional matchups through the first two rounds at least. It looks good to me.”
Niskanen - “I guess not. I thought the old one was fine. The only thing I didn’t like about the old was winning a bad division gave you the third seed. I think you should be in the division for winning your division but I don’t think it should give you that higher seed. The wild car thing, I’m kind of indifferent about it. I’m not sure about with the divisions crossing over and if you stay in that division, that seems a bit complicated.”
(Photos: Duane Burleson/Associated Press, Drew Hallowell/Getty Images, Harry How/Getty Images, Jamie Sabau/Getty Images and Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)