With all the talk out there how the Bruins drew the short straw, facing the Red Wings in the first round, it got me thinking how the reward for placing higher in the standings should be drastically improved.
First of all, the current wildcard rankings are a very poor design in my mind. If the Wild finished with 3 additional points, they would have had 101 points to the L.A. Kings' 100, but Minnesota still would have been a wildcard. Absolute worst case scenario is if a team finished ahead of another team in points and didn't even make it. If L.A. only had 90 points instead of 100 and Nashville had 91 instead of 88, L.A. would go to the playoffs and Nashville would be booking tee times.
So instead of first round division match-ups and wildcard races, get rid of the Divisions come playoff time and send the top 8 in each conference to the playoffs. Take the top 3 finishers in the conference and now give them a choice of their first round opponent. Boston takes home the President's Trophy, so they get first pick from the bottom 5 of the Eastern Conference playoff pool... The Blue Jackets would be the easiest for them on paper, but the Flyers would require less travel. Either way, it's their choice. The Penguins choose second and Lightning choose third from the remaining teams (Canadiens, Rangers, Red Wings). By being in the top 3 of the conference you guarantee your team does not have to play that one team that is the bane of your playoff existence... at least in the first round.
Out west, the top two match-ups likely wouldn't change; The Ducks take on the Stars and the Avalanche play the Wild. But now the Blues have to choose between the Kings, Sharks, and Blackhawks... how does one even choose given those choices? Is there even a right answer? The Blues end up deciding not only their own opponent, but the remaining series as well. Chicago - L.A. would be one tough battle for the first round, what better way to stick it to the Blackhawks?
Then what if the Blues choose San Jose and lose, or even worse, get swept? Imagine the anger of Blues fans. Imagine the gloating Sharks fans. Anyone else think those feelings could precipitate a rivalry?
Rinse and repeat in the second round with reseeding. Assuming the Bruins and Ducks win, not only do they get to choose their second round opponents again, they effectively decide the match-ups for the entire Conference. How's that for a conference-winning reward?
NHL, are you listening? That is how the playoffs should be structured.