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Daniel Winnik calls current playoff format 'the stupidest thing ever'

Daniel Winnik calls current playoff format 'the stupidest thing ever'

If you’re frustrated by the NHL’s current playoff format, Daniel Winnik feels your pain.

The playoff format has become a topic of conversation around the NHL recently as the top three teams in the NHL and four of the top five all hail from the Metropolitan Division. Because of the league’s divisional playoff format, the first place team will play a wild-card team in the first round, while the second and third place team will have to play each other with the winner of each series squaring off in the second round.

That guarantees that two of the top three teams in the NHL will be eliminated by the second round and that just doesn’t make much sense to Winnik.

“It's stupid,” he said. “It's the stupidest thing ever. I don't know why it's not 1 to 8, I don't know why we got away from that.”

RELATED: Orpik misses practice Monday

The obvious flaw of the news system is that, by restricting the top three teams to play within one division, in years like this where there is one super conference, it means an unfavorable first-round matchup for a team that is one of the best in the entire league. As of Monday, Columbus and Pittsburgh are second and third in the entire NHL standings and their reward would be the chance to play one another in the very first round. Also, by adding a wild card that does not stay within the division, there is an obvious benefit for a team like the New York Rangers to finish fourth and switch to the Atlantic side of the bracket.

There is also a potential for the third place team in one division to actually finish lower in the standings than a wild card team, but not have to play the best team in the conference. We saw that in 2016. The Detroit Red Wings had the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference, but the third best in the Atlantic. Instead of having to play the top-seeded Capitals in the first round, they played the Tampa Bay Lightning who finished second in the Atlantic, but sixth overall in the conference.

What makes things worse, as Winnik points out, is that the current playoff system isn’t even that good and doing what is was originally set up to accomplish.

“Part of the point of it was to reduce travel, but it only reduces travel if you finish in your division, if you finish second and third,” he said.

In theory, having teams play within the division should cut down on travel, but as wild card teams can come from either division, it fails to accomplish that. Last season featured a first-round matchup between the Anaheim Ducks, winners of the Pacific, and a wild card Nashville Predators team. And, since the Predators switched into the Pacific bracket, once they beat the Ducks they had to play the San Jose Sharks in the second round.

If geography isn't your thing, let's just say Nashville is nowhere close to either Anaheim or San Jose.

Most damning, however, is the fact that the divisonal foramt undercuts rivalries by making it more likely that rivals play in the earlier rounds.

First and foremost, the divisional format was created to develop rivalries. By pitting divisional teams against one another, that means teams that play one another frequently in the regular season are more likely to play in the playoffs every year. But, to use the Caps as an example, unless Pittsburgh makes it into the playoffs as a wild card team and play in the Atlantic, they will always play Washington in the first or second round, never in the conference final.

“You can't manufacture a rivalry,” Winnik said. “There's already rivalries between us and Pittsburgh, us and the Rangers. The way I see it now, I'm sure the fans are getting sick of seeing the same two teams play each other in the first round, second round.”

In the previous format, the winner of each division was one of the top three seeds in each conference and then the remaining five teams were seeded according to the standings regardless of division. No. 1 would play No. 8, No. 2 would play No. 7, etc. and each team was re-seeded at the end of each round. So instead of a set bracket, the highest seed was guaranteed to play the lowest seed in each round.

As an illustration, and bearing in mind that the NHL has gone from six divisions to four, here is what the first-round playoff matchups in the east would look like as of Monday:

1. Washington Capitals (Metropolitan winner)
8. Toronto Maple Leafs

2. Montreal Canadiens (Atlantic winner)
7. Boston Bruins

3. Columbus Blue Jackets
6. Ottawa Senators

4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. New York Rangers

This format, however, is not without its faults.

“The other way wasn't perfect,” Winnik said. “For years this division, the southeast, the winner of that division should have been out of the playoffs, but at least that made a little more sense.”

It should also be noted that if there were no upsets in the first round, the above projection would still give a second-round matchup between Washington and Pittsburgh. But it does seem fairer than a format that moves New York down to seventh simply because of their division and forces the second and third best teams in the NHL to play one another in the first round.

That's a concept that clearly has Winnik a bit…befuddled.

“I don't understand it and I think everyone hopes it gets fixed after this season.”

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie tries to remain 'extremley present' even in a contract year

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2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Rangers

2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Rangers

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings. How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams? This week, CSN is taking a look at each team’s offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

Team: New York Rangers.

2016-17 Results: 48-28-6 (102 points, fourth in the division). Defeated Montreal in the first round before losing to Ottawa in the second.

Notable acquisitions: D Kevin Shattenkirk, G Ondrej Pavelec, C David Desharnais, D Anthony DeAngelo and assistant coach Lindy Ruff.

Notable departures: F Derek Stepan, G Antti Raanta, F Oscar Lindberg, D Dan Girardi, D Kevin Klein and F Tanner Glass.

When they will play the Caps: At Washington Dec. 8, at New York Dec. 27, at New York March 26 and at Washington March 28.

MORE CAPITALS: 25 most important Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

2017-18 Rangers Analysis: Following their second round loss to the Senators, this much had become clear about the Rangers: in order to return to contender status they needed an offseason refresh on the backend.

So GM Jeff Gorton got to work.

He signed hometown standout Kevin Shattenkirk, the top prize on the free agent market, to a team-friendly deal. He re-upped late-season addition Brendan Smith. He also bought out longtime Ranger Dan Girardi, while 32-year-old Kevin Klein retired from the NHL.

As a result, the Rangers will enter camp next month with a revamped—and improved—blue line that’ll boast Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Smith in the top 4.

The third pair? There’s options, including 10-year vet Marc Staal, Nick Holden and 2014 first rounder Anthony DeAngelo, acquired in the June trade that sent top line center Derek Stepan to Arizona. (The Stepan deal, which also sent valuable backup goalie Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for DeAngelo and a first round pick, cleared much needed cap space, some of which was used to sign Shattenkirk.)

Up front, the Rangers’ offense (fourth best last season at 3.09 goals per game) figures to miss Stepan and his 55 points, but the group still looks awfully potent with the likes of Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad shouldering the scoring load.

In all, New York returns nine of its top 10 point-getters from a year ago, while adding power play wiz Shattenkirk.

Over the past six seasons, the Rangers have advanced to the conference final three times and the Stanley Cup final once. With the renovation on defense, might this be the year Henrik Lundqvist and Co. finish the job?

2017-18 Rangers Season prediction: 

Speaking of Lundqvist, I suspect he holds the key to unlocking New York’s full potential.

He’s been the Rangers’ rock for past decade, but you can’t gloss over the fact that he’s 35 years old, has logged some hard miles and is coming off the worst season regular season of his career, during which he posted a .910 save percentage and a 2.74 goals against average. He’s also returning from a sprained knee that he suffered while backstopping Sweden to the gold medal at the World Championships in May.

In a recent interview with NHL.com, Lundqvist said he doesn’t expect the knee to give him any trouble. But he also acknowledged the need to be more consistent, saying of last season, “The highs were as high as any other year. The lows were a little too low.”

Was a blip? Or is King Henrik slowing down? The answer, right now, is not clear.

If Lundqvist bounces back, though, I like the retooled Rangers’ chances challenging for the division title…and, perhaps, a much bigger prize, as well.

More Metro Division previews:

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some roles are bigger than others.

The Caps will look to their prospects to take carry a bigger load than in recent years while there while the team’ leaders and superstars will continue being tasked with leading the way.

Jill Sorenson, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan are counting down who the 25 most important players for the Caps will be in the 2017-18 season.

Today’s player: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

How does the team's No. 3 goalie make this list? Because there is a good chance he will not be the No. 3 goalie for long.

Copley originally signed with the Capitals in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. He was shipped off to St. Louis in 2015 in the trade package that netted Washington T.J. Oshie, but the team reacquired Copley in 2017 as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade.

RELATED: 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

The move was an instant boost for Hershey. Copley managed a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage in 25 games with the Bears and played well in the playoffs until a groin pull prematurely ended his postseason.

As good as Copley looked in Hershey, general manager Brian MacLellan did not target the 25-year old netminder just to boost the AHL squad. Copley was brought in as a possible replacement for current backup Philipp Grubauer and there is a good possibility that he could take that role at some point this season.

It's no secret that Grubauer wants to be a starter. After a season in which he posted a 2.04 GAA, .926 save percentage and 13-6-2 record, one could argue he is ready to make that jump. After Vegas selected Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft and with no goalie market over the summer, Grubauer still remains in Washington, but that does not mean he will remain for the entire 2017-18 campaign.

Some goalies don't pan out for teams and others get injured. There will be teams out there who will find themselves in need of a goalie this season and they will come calling, perhaps even as early as training camp if someone suffers an early injury. The Capitals are a team with obvious needs. They do not boast the same depth they have had in recent years and will likely be willing to listen to offers for their German backup. If and when that happens, then Copley will most likely step make the jump to the NHL as backup to Holtby.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber