The nice fact about the NHL semifinal round is that while the Islanders and Lightning are coming together for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, the other series will put the Canadians up against to the Golden Knights, an encounter with the biggest gap between inaugural seasons in the league’s history, as those two teams begin 100 years apart.
What highlights the matchup is that the NHL is falling on something this year that could be a way forward to keep the playoffs fresh and exciting.
It’s generally agreed and fairly clear that Vegas is one of the elite teams in the league this year, with the fewest goals allowed by the NHL allowed and is tied for the third highest goal scored. Meanwhile, the Canadiens have won just 24 of 56 games in the regular season, outscored 168-159 overall, and made the playoffs because there was a Canadian division of seven teams and the Canucks, Flames and Senators were direct.
However, the Vegas-Montreal playoff series has a nice intrigue, as the Golden Knights needed seven games to beat the Wild, before crushing for a six-game series with the Avalanche Winning Presidents Trophy. . Meanwhile, the Canadians have won seven straight games, going back from 3 to 1 against heavily favored Toronto and then sweeping Winnipeg without ever following the series, the first time it has happened in the league in six years, since Chicago annihilated Minnesota. in the first round on track to win the Cup.
Because they haven’t played each other this year, we don’t know how, exactly, the Canadians and the Golden Knights clash. There’s an air of mystery that we don’t get in an ordinary year when every team faces every other team.
The reason for having a calendar where all the teams face each other is to ensure that fans in every city can see all the stars of the league, but in a GIF-and-YouTube world, this reasoning becomes less and less important, even beyond beyond this year of little or no presence in arenas. Will it be so important for Connor McDavid to make an annual visit to Philadelphia, or to San Jose to see up close Nikita Kucherov? Especially since the NHL is moving into a new TV contract with partners who might go beyond saying “wow, we’ll just put Buffalo, Chicago, or Pittsburgh every week to bank an easy local rating,” the exposure of the stars is more on screens than in person is OK.
Meanwhile, this year’s divisional lineup, although not perfect, has had some major advantages. The passion for the all-Canadian division was palpable, Sun Belt rivalries like Hurricanes-Lightning had a real chance to thrive (in a division where Chicago and Detroit were finally reunited and rightly so), and the Compressed East was an exploitation as it was. and the corridor of the Northeast titans filled each other.
Going forward, the NHL should consider the positives of what it should do this season, and put in place a schedule that would give us this kind of intrigue, i.e. a very division-based program, with a few games sprinkled against it. to others. Perhaps the regular season rankings can be based on the divisional game, while inter-divisional games can make up the type of tournament in season that the NBA test to settle.
Focusing on divisions rather than conferences, we can get these types of semifinal encounters where teams don’t face each other all year, and maybe get the same in Finals. The positive of the divisional game rather than lined up for conference is that the first two rounds of the post-season can be based on rivalries, so when it comes to the last four, you get fresh challenges that present geographical diversity.
If Vegas and Montreal had played each other this season, their series would offer much less in an unknown way. It’s not easy to get something fresh and exciting after six months of hockey. The NHL should take this rare gift, appreciate it, and take it as a rare positive to move out of the pandemic, reshaping the Stanley Cup playoffs for the better for years to come.