The NHL's regular season has always been meaningless. Sixteen teams have qualified for the playoffs since the league expanded to 21 teams in 1979-80, which resulted in the Edmonton Oilers and their 69 points securing the final playoff berth that season. That silliness was offset, however, but the NHL using the wonderful 1-16/2-15/3-14 format that allowed East and West teams to meet before the Final and division rivals to meet in the Final.
Even with the addition of Vegas, the NHL still sends more than half of its teams to the postseason, which devalues the first six months of the season. The idea that an eight seed can win the Cup just as easily as a one seed is either a great thing or a terrible thing, depending on your perspective.
But with the NHL switching from a 1-8/2-7/3-6/4-5 conference format to this divisional monstrosity, now good teams are being screwed by the early-round matchups.
The Bruins and Leafs have the second- and third-best records in the East, but because of this asinine format, they will probably face each other in the first round. The Lightning have the most points in the NHL and will have to battle either the Bruins or Leafs in round two. The Flames have the eighth-most points in the West but will avoid the top seed because they are third in Pacific, which means whichever team finishes first in the West will be rewarded with a more difficult matchup.
Seattle is still a couple years from joining the league, so there will be a slight imbalance in conferences until then. That shouldn't be a reason to continue with this divisional format but doing the obviously correct thing quickly has never been the NHL's strong suit. But whenever the change comes, I'd like to propose a tiny alteration (just kidding it's an overhaul) to the tried and true 1-8/2-7/3-6/4-5 arrangement we've all come to enjoy.
Here's what I'm proposing: The FIEGI (Fuck It Everyone Gets In) NHL Playoffs!
That's right! Fuck it! Everyone gets in! Between the loser point and teams never wanting to sell at the deadline, now we can drop the parity charade and give NHL GMs another reason to not work all that hard at the deadline. Everyone! Gets! In! The entire regular season is for seeding under the FIEGI format and we are abandoning the conference setup and going with the old time 1-16/2-15/etc format that never should have been scrapped.
By allowing every team into the playoffs, the regular season will now matter more with this revolutionary idea.
Assuming the season ended Thursday (and going by points percentage), this is how FIEGI playoffs and seeding would work:
(17. New Jersey Devils receive a bye into the next round)
31. Arizona Coyotes at 18. Anaheim Ducks
30. Buffalo Sabres at 19. Columbus Blue Jackets
29. Ottawa Senators at 20. Carolina Hurricanes
28. Vancouver Canucks at 21. Florida Panthers
27. Montreal Canadiens at 22. New York Rangers
26. Edmonton Oilers at 23. New York Islanders
25. Chicago Blackhawks at 24. Detroit Red Wings
The seven matchups are one-game playoffs at the higher-seeded team's building. All the games are played on the same day, on the Tuesday after the regular season ends. Would letting teams like the Coyotes and Sabres into the playoffs cut down on tanking? I love tanking so I don't care, but it couldn't hurt. Think of these games like the NCAA tournament games that get played in Dayton that aren't really tournament games.
Let's assume all the higher-seeded teams win. The next round's matchups will now involve teams that would normally have qualified for a first-round, best-of-seven series, but under the FIEGI rules, some of those teams must fight for their lives in a best-of-three played entirely in the building of the higher-seeded teams. Here's how it would look:
Wild Card Round
17. New Jersey Devils at 16. Calgary Flames
18. Anaheim Ducks at 15. Philadelphia Flyers
19. Carolina Hurricanes at 14. Los Angeles Kings
20. Columbus Blue Jackets at 13. Pittsburgh Penguins
21. New York Rangers at 12. Colorado Avalanche
22. New York Islanders at 11. San Jose Sharks
23. Florida Panthers at 10. Minnesota Wild
24. Detroit Red Wings at 9. St. Louis Blues
FIEGI is operating under the idea that building availability isn't an issue, so all games in the wild card round will happen in a Thursday-Saturday-Monday format. The earliest the real, actual playoffs could start is Tuesday if there are two-game sweeps and a three-game series ends Saturday. Reseeding happens again next round, with the Presidents' Trophy winner drawing the worst remaining team.
You're probably concerned about the full week off for the top eight teams between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason. Not me. Those top eight teams have earned that week off by being the best eight teams in the regular season. What team after Game 82 doesn't have a few players that could use a week to recharge? And they'll get to face a team that's been worn down by the first two rounds of the FIEGI playoffs. It incentivizes the regular season and rewards the best teams.
After this, we return to the standard four-round, best-of-seven series, only we are going with the delicious conference crossover format the NHL desperately needs after all these years of boring divisional matchups. Again, for the sake of ease, all the higher seeds advance and we get (without any more reseeding after this because people like filling out brackets):
16. Calgary Flames vs. 1. Boston Bruins
15. Philadelphia Flyers at 2. Nashville Predators
14. Los Angeles Kings at 3. Vegas Golden Knights
13. Colorado Avalanche at 4. Tampa Bay Lightning
12. Pittsburgh Penguins at 5. Winnipeg Jets
11. San Jose Sharks at 6. Toronto Maple Leafs
10. Minnesota Wild at 7. Washington Capitals
9. St. Louis Blues at 8. Dallas Stars
We could have a Bruins-Leafs or Penguins-Capitals FIEGI Final! Or just a normal matchup between the Bruins and Predators! It doesn't matter!
Let's summarize the pros and cons of the FIEGI Playoffs:
• The regular season matters more with 31 teams qualifying, because it devalues tanking and increases the value of being one of the top-eight teams in the league. There's even incentive if you're in the middle of the pack, because finishing 17th gets you to the best-of-three round.
• More money for owners they would not have otherwise earned after missing the playoffs as a bottom 15 team.
• Teams 9-16 are still guaranteed two home dates and can earn a third, just like a normal first-round series, so it's not as though they would go home empty-handed if they lost in two games. In the FIEGI playoffs, these teams have a chance for more home game playoff revenue if they win the extra best-of-three series.
I've somehow made the season longer by a week. I'm sorry about that but it was unavoidable. Like you're doing anything better anyway.