We're certainly enjoying the Stanley Cup Playoffs here in Boston. And there have been great series across the NHL. Three opening round series went the full 7. There were 17 overtime games. Two #7 seeds upset two #2 seeds. Two #6 seeds upset two #3 seeds. There are 4 Original Six teams left. The top 3 American media markets still have teams left. This is great.
Enjoy it while it lasts because next year will be completely different. There will be no Pittsburgh/Ottawa or Boston/New York meetings in the 2nd round. Everything will be divisional as the NHL realigns and revamps its playoff system.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't broken, yet the NHL will try to fix them. The League will realign into 4 divisions, and the first two rounds of the playoffs will be within the division.
I don't mind divisional meetings in the playoffs. I love them! Boston/Toronto was a great series. So was Ottawa/Montreal. And Washington/New York will be a divisional meeting next year. But don't force the drama, NHL. Don't try to artificially create excitement and rivalry by keeping the playoffs inside divisions until the Conference Finals.
This won't create new rivalries, or enhance old ones. It will, however, reduce the potential for interdivisional rivalries as well as eliminate some that already exist. Philadelphia/Boston. Chicago/LA. New York/Boston. Chicago/Vancouver. Boston/Pittsburgh.
You'll face the same teams throughout the regular season, then the same in the playoffs. The Bruins won't meet the Flyers, Rangers, Penguins, or Capitals until the 3rd round.
The NHL's shortsightedness in this issue is demonstrated by the fact that the Capitals will be in a division with the Rangers and Penguins. The Caps have built a rivalry with these teams. And they built those rivalries by meeting in the playoffs. Even though they were in different divisions. Rivalries like these will no longer be born in the postseason.
There's nothing wrong and everything right with the current playoff format. The drama comes naturally. The 7 and 8 seeds are tough because they fight their way into the playoffs while the 1 and 2 seeds cruise in. The series are great because the different matchups and styles can all mix together. The stars of Pittsburgh can meet the grinders of Ottawa while the Boston and New York metro areas can play out their rivalry in another sport.
Hopefully next year the playoffs are just as exciting and captivating. And if not, hopefully the NHL has the sense to go back to a 1-8 two Conference format.