With the 2013/14 NHL regular season coming to an end, there is no better time to remind ourselves of just how the new NHL playoff system will work, the inaugural play-offs under the new post-season structure.
To begin with, a key factor to keep in mind is the realignment of the conferences, with the old 14 teams in each being done away with, there are now 16 teams in the East conference, and 14 in the West. These conferences are further broken down into four divisions: the Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific.
Now, with that in mind, we have to forget the simple old method of the top eight teams from each conference qualifying for the play-offs. Instead, the top three teams in each division are automatic qualifiers, going on to take twelve of the sixteen spots available. After these, four wild card teams, two from each conference, grab the last four spaces, with those teams being the highest points totals from outside their division’s top three teams.
This new system means that a minimum of three teams will come out of each division into the playoffs, with a maximum of five from any division being possible.
Still with us?
Once the action gets going in the play-offs, the two top teams from each conference will play against the two wild card teams with the fewest points, regardless of division.
Then, the teams who finished second and third in each division will play against each other, with the winners from these match ups advancing to the next round, in which the top seed plays the lowest seed and so on. This will continue all the way to the final, in which the two remaining teams fight it out for the Stanley Cup.
With the play-offs set to begin in April, many teams are now making their final charge to play into May and June. Currently, the Western conference looks extremely strong, with most of its likely playoff-bound teams heading towards 100 points. The real race is for the wild card spots, with the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes all in with real chances. According to http://www.bettingsports.com, of the outsiders, the odds ‘favor’ Minnesota at 60-1 with Dallas and Phoenix priced at 100-1 in the hockey lines. Minnesota in particular could be seen as really good value at that price.
In the Eastern conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins are the only teams who can really say for certain they will make the playoffs, with pretty much every other team in the hunt only a losing streak away from falling out of the picture. The Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadians all look strong bets, however, to make it past the second week of April.