The cool reality in regards to the NHL’s semifinal spherical is that whereas the Islanders and Lightning are assembly for a visit to the Stanley Cup Last for the second straight 12 months, the opposite sequence pits the Canadiens in opposition to the Golden Knights, a matchup that includes the biggest hole between inaugural seasons in league historical past, as these two groups began 100 years apart.
What the matchup highlights is that the NHL has stumbled onto one thing this 12 months that might be a means ahead to conserving the playoffs recent and thrilling.
It’s typically agreed and fairly clear that Vegas is without doubt one of the elite groups within the league this 12 months, with the NHL’s fewest targets allowed and it’s tied for the third-most targets scored. The Canadiens, in the meantime, received solely 24 of 56 video games within the common season, had been outscored 168-159 on combination, and made the playoffs as a result of there was a seven-team Canadian division and the Canucks, Flames, and Senators had been straight trash.
But, the Vegas-Montreal playoff sequence has a very good little bit of intrigue, because the Golden Knights wanted seven video games to beat the Wild, earlier than grinding by means of a six-game sequence with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche. The Canadiens, in the meantime, have received seven straight video games, getting back from down 3-1 in opposition to overwhelmingly-favored Toronto after which sweeping Winnipeg with out ever trailing within the sequence, the primary time that’s occurred within the league in six years, since Chicago annihilated Minnesota within the first spherical en path to profitable the Cup.
As a result of they haven’t performed one another this 12 months, we don’t know the way, precisely, the Canadiens and Golden Knights match up in opposition to one another. There’s an aura about it that we simply don’t get in an bizarre 12 months when each group faces each different group.
The explanation for having a schedule the place all groups face one another is to make sure that followers in every metropolis get to see the entire league’s stars, however in a GIF-and-YouTube world, that reasoning turns into ever much less vital, even past this 12 months of little-to-no attendance in arenas. Is it that vital for Connor McDavid to make an annual go to to Philadelphia, or San Jose to see Nikita Kucherov up shut? Particularly because the NHL strikes into a brand new TV contract with companions who may transcend saying “screw it, we’ll simply put Buffalo, Chicago, or Pittsburgh on each week to financial institution a simple native score,” the celebrities’ publicity being extra on screens than in particular person is OK.
In the meantime, this 12 months’s divisional alignment, whereas not good, did have some very massive upsides. The fervour of the all-Canadian division was palpable, Solar Belt rivalries like Hurricanes-Lightning obtained an actual probability to thrive (in a division the place Chicago and Detroit had been lastly and rightfully reunited), and the compressed East was a blast because the Northeast hall’s titans obtained their fill of one another.
Going ahead, the NHL ought to take into account the positives of what it had to do that season, and arrange a schedule that offers us this type of intrigue, i.e. a closely division-based schedule, with just a few video games sprinkled in in opposition to the others. Maybe the regular-season standings may be based mostly on divisional play, whereas the inter-divisional video games can comprise the sort of in-season match that the NBA is trying to arrange.
By specializing in divisions relatively than conferences, we are able to get these sorts of semifinal matchups the place groups haven’t confronted one another all 12 months, and possibly get the identical within the Last. The constructive of divisional play relatively than aligning by convention is that the primary two rounds of the postseason may be based mostly on rivalries, then while you get to the ultimate 4, you’re getting recent matchups that characteristic geographical range.
If Vegas and Montreal had performed one another this season, their sequence would provide loads much less in the way in which of unknowns. It’s not straightforward to get one thing recent and thrilling after six months of hockey. The NHL ought to take this uncommon reward, recognize it, and take it as a uncommon constructive to take ahead out of the pandemic, reshaping the Stanley Cup playoffs for the higher for years to return.