We know that it has been said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result. I’m not sure whether that definition applies to the NHL and its playoff format or to me for writing about just about annually for the last decade.
Both, I suspect.
I get that the NHL does nothing to provide rewards for success and everything in its power to level the playing field. The punitive hard cap, of course, is the essence of the league’s commitment to imposing restrictions that most significantly hamstring successful teams more quickly than others.
So too is this unbelievably unfair format under which two of the current best five teams in the league — fourth-overall Toronto and fifth-overall Tampa Bay — would meet in the first round. Meanwhile, either the NHL’s 10th-best or 11th-best team — Seattle and Vegas, respectively — would be guaranteed to advance to Round 2 if that matchup holds.
Those are inequities built into the 2-3 divisional first-round matchup. It happens just about every season. Last season, the Maple Leafs-Lightning first round matched the fourth-best and eighth-best teams. The format was different during the 2020-21 and 2019-20 COVID-impacted seasons. In 2017-18, the teams with the best records in the NHL, Nashville and Winnipeg, respectively, played in the second round, while Boston and Toronto hooked up in a 4-7 matchup in Round 1.
In 2016-17, second-overall Pittsburgh faced fourth-overall Columbus — yes, that is correct — in the first round. The year before that, the third-overall Blues met the fifth-overall Blackhawks in the opening round. That is not a quirk. It is the feature of the format.
It can’t be about rivalries because the NHL has done its best to make those into anachronisms. There is no legitimate reason for the NHL not to adopt the 1-8 conference reseeding format that existed from 1999 to 2013, except that would mean the end of brackets.
Yes, that’s it. Marketing brackets takes precedence over competitive integrity.
We know that if the NHL can legitimize, say, the 12th-overall and 14th-overall clubs getting to the conference finals, that would bolster the message that if you can just make it, you have a chance. That represents genetic engineering. It’s Ninth Avenue’s mantra.
But why in the world do club owners go along with this folly? Why would owners who spend to the limit, hire the correct people, present a Grade A product (year after year after year), endorse a system in which their team has an inordinate chance of getting a maximum of four home playoff dates?
Another season. Another tournament in which elite teams confront one another in the first round. Maybe the U.S. Open can present a first-round matchup between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz in August. That would make as much sense as the NHL playoff format.
Year after year. That’s not merely insane. It is asinine.
More than a fair amount of credit is due Gary Bettman for his steadfast opposition to adding a layer of play-in games to the tournament that could include a team that might be 22nd-overall. Why anyone believes that a team that finishes 10th in a 16-team conference deserves a crack at the Stanley Cup is beyond me.
Ivan Provorov’s Pride Night opt-out in Philadelphia on Jan. 17 seems to have had a chilling ripple effect that at least reached New York, where the Rangers on Friday reneged on a public commitment to take the pregame warmup wearing pride-themed jerseys while using pride-themed tape.
The organization did recognize the LGBTQ+ community throughout the Pride Night, but has repeatedly declined to provide an explanation for why the team took warmups in their designated Liberty jerseys with players using customary black tape.
That was not by decree of the NHL. “Each club is entitled to proceed as they see fit,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Post in an email exchange in which he said the league had not counseled teams in any manner regarding this issue.
Following that game Friday, two players separately told my colleague, Mollie Walker, and me, that the players had not been consulted and only learned they would be wearing their customary warmups when they reported to the rink.
The inference is that a high-level executive feared that the prospect of an opt-out would become divisive and intervened to prevent that. It should be noted, however, that the Rangers wore rainbow-themed warmups and used rainbow tape in celebrating Pride Night the previous two seasons.
No one will step forward to take credit or accountability for the call. It is as if it were an Immaculate Decision, rendered by tablet on a mountaintop.
But it is about more than the Rangers.
Because if one lone protester can shut down a league-wide program for fear of copycat behavior, then what are we doing here?
What are we doing?
A question for our times: Are the Islanders — 2-7-3 in their previous 12 games, 11th by points percentage in the East prior to their match Saturday night against the Golden Knights — among the NHL’s biggest disappointments or are they exactly what folks should have been expecting?
I’m thinking both things can be true at once.
So, tanking 1984 style. While the Penguins were embarking on a shameless spree to draft Mario Lemieux, Devils coach Tom McVie was using the prospect of No. 66’s arrival as a pregame rallying cry for marginal forwards such as Rick Meagher, Gary McAdam and Glenn Merkosky not to allow him to come to New Jersey and take one of their jobs.
Wait, second-overall Kirk Muller wasn’t going to do the same?
In recognition of No. 50, Will Cuylle’s NHL debut on Wednesday for the Rangers, ranking the players who wore numbers in the 50s for our three teams:1. Ryan Lindgren, No. 55, Rangers; 2. Frans Nielsen, No. 51, Islanders; 3. Casey Cizikas, No. 53, Islanders; 4. Johnny Boychuk, No. 55, Islanders; 5. Jason Blake, No. 55, Islanders. Honorable Mention: Fedor Tyutin, No. 51, Rangers; Mention: Marty McSorley, No. 55, Rangers.
All right, who do you have back at the points? Denis Potvin and Stefan Persson or Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov?