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NHL Playoff Seedings: A Look at Alternate Realities

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A quick look at what might have been, had the NHL had different rules.

The Wild face the Blues. But should it be this way?
The Wild face the Blues. But should it be this way?
Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

You probably know the NHL's Playoff Seeding rules by now. And if you don't, don't worry, they don't really make much sense to anyone.

Basically, there are two Divisions per Conference, and they each have their own playoff bracket. The Top-3 teams get an automatic berth in that bracket, and are seeded 1-3. Once those teams are in, the teams with the next two highest point totals are Wild Cards, with the highest Wild Card facing the Division Winner with the most least points. After each round, instead of re-seeding, as the NHL used to do, winning teams simply move on in their bracket.

Simple, right?

These rules have given us the matchups we see today.

Anaheim vs. Winnipeg

Vancouver vs. Calgary

St. Louis vs. Minnesota

Nashville vs. Chicago

These rules were designed to better foster Divisional Rivalries, and for the most part, this worked out OK. Anaheim-Winnipeg doesn't really make sense, since this incarnation of the Jets is the Atlanta Thrashers franchise, and not the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes. But everything else makes geographic sense.

But it's really a bit of a convoluted system. Might we see good matchups anyway, given different rules? Let's go into another dimension and find out.

Here are the Western Conference Standings:

Central

W

L

OTL

PTS

ROW

SOW

SOL

St. Louis

51

24

7

109

42

9

4

Nashville

47

25

10

104

41

6

6

Chicago

48

28

6

102

39

9

3

Minnesota

46

28

8

100

42

4

3

Winnipeg

43

26

13

99

36

7

6

Dallas

41

31

10

92

37

4

3

Colorado

39

31

12

90

29

10

4

Pacific

W

L

OTL

PTS

ROW

SOW

SOL

Anaheim

51

24

7

109

43

8

5

Vancouver

48

29

5

101

42

6

2

Calgary

45

30

7

97

41

4

3

Los Angeles

40

27

15

95

38

2

8

San Jose

40

33

9

89

36

4

6

Edmonton

24

44

14

62

19

5

7

Arizona

24

50

8

56

19

5

5

Playoff Matchups with Divisional Format, No Wild Cards

St. Louis vs Minnesota

Nashville vs Chicago

Anaheim vs Los Angeles

Vancouver vs Calgary

Same matchups as we see today, except Winnipeg is ousted from the playoffs, and Los Angeles sneaks in. It's insane that a 99-point team in Winnipeg would be knocked out of the playoffs, suggesting that the Wild Card was probably the one good thing about this format.

Playoff Matchups with No Divisional Format

Anaheim vs. Calgary

St. Louis vs. Winnipeg

Nashville vs. Minnesota

Chicago vs. Vancouver

Wild fans would surely prefer this format, as Nashville was the popular choice of Wild fans for a potential first-round matchup. Plus, one of St. Louis or Winnipeg, two heavy teams that beat up the Wild, would've been ousted by Round 2. It'd also be interesting to see if the Chicago-Vancouver rivalry still had any teeth to it.

Playoff Matchups With No Loser Point

Anaheim vs. Winnipeg

Vancouver vs. Calgary

St. Louis vs. Minnesota

Nashville vs. Chicago

The loser point doesn't affect the playoff matchups.

Playoff Matchups With Ties, Not Shootouts

St. Louis (100 points) vs. Chicago (93)

Nashville (98) vs. Minnesota (96)

Anaheim (101) vs. Los Angeles (93)

Vancouver (95) vs. Calgary (93)

The LA Kings suffered greatly from their lack of wins in the shootout, and this knocked them out of the playoffs. Chicago and Winnipeg benefitted a bit from the shootout, which was the difference between Winnipeg making the playoffs and not.

Playoff Matchups With No Divisions Or Conferences

This is my favorite playoff scenario. Pacific, Central, Atlantic, Metropolitan, East, West. None of that matters. Go 1-16, who plays who?

NY Rangers (1) vs. Calgary (16)

Montreal (2) vs. Pittsburgh (15)

Anaheim (3) vs. Winnipeg (14)

St. Louis (4) vs. Ottawa (13)

Tampa Bay (5) vs. Detroit (12)

Nashville (6) vs. Minnesota (11)

Chicago (7) vs. NY Islanders (10)

Washington (8) vs. Vancouver (9)

What's fun about this is it's ability to produce unique or compelling match-ups that would otherwise be impossible to happen. But beyond a return of Nick Leddy to Chicago, I'm not really seeing those kinds of match-ups. Oh, well, there's always next year in this alternate reality.

***               ***               ***

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. The rules are the rules. Reality is reality. The Wild will play the 2nd-seeded Blues, regardless of whether it's "right" or "fair". They're going to have to deal with it.

And so are the LA Kings, Hey-ooooooooooooo! *high-fives everyone*