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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.”

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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.”

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3 bold predictions: Caps face Blue Jackets in pivotal Metro clash

3 bold predictions: Caps face Blue Jackets in pivotal Metro clash

The Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets meet in a pivotal Metropolitan Division clash on Thursday (7 p.m., CSN). Here are three bold predictions for the game.

1. Neither team will score on the power play

This prediction isn’t about how good or bad the power play units are, I just don’t expect either team to get many opportunities. Washington has given up only one power play in each of their last three games while Columbu has taken even fewer. They have been shorthanded only twice in their last three.

RELATED: Breathing room and history at stake for Caps on Thursday

2. Washington will score at least three goals

Sergei Bobrovsky should be in consideration for both the Vezina Trophy and the Hart Trophy given the season he is having. Having said that, he hasn’t faced a top ten offense in quite some time. In their last 10 games, the Blue Jackets have played two teams with offenses currently ranked in the top 10 and Bobrovsky didn’t play either of them. Backup Joonas Korpisalo started on March 18 against the New York Islanders (2.94 goals per game, 9th in the NHL) and on Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs (3.06 goals per game, 6th in the NHL). Don’t get me wrong, Bobrovsky has been fantastic all year, but after playing against Buffalo, Philadelphia, Florida and New Jersey (three times), he may not be completely ready for the jump of playing a team like Washington.

3. Brett Connolly, Lars Eller or Andre Burakovsky will score

Burakovsky has been fantastic in his return. He looks fast and dangerous and so has the third line. So far that has not led to any goals for the trio, but it will Thursday. This line is playing too well to continue to get shutout.

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Caps seek breathing room—and a spot in the record book—with Columbus in town

Caps seek breathing room—and a spot in the record book—with Columbus in town

When the Blue Jackets visit Verizon Center on Thursday night, the Capitals will have the chance to accomplish a couple of things: they can open a little breathing room between themselves and Columbus and they can tie the franchise record for most home wins in a season.

“As I just said to the guys, games like tonight, if you’re a coach or a hockey player, that’s what you play for,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the morning skate, “to get games where there’s a lot of meaning. We’ve prepared all year for this, so let’s get at it.”

Entering Thursday’s games, the Caps had 102 points, the Penguins owned 101 and Jackets checked in with 100. So a win, obviously, would give the Caps a four-point edge on Sergei Bobrovsky and Co. with nine games remaining for both clubs.

Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus are 1-2-3 in the league standings, as well.

“It’s not that much distance,” defenseman Brooks Orpik cracked, asked about possibly opening a four-point advantage on the Jackets, who lost to the Maple Leafs, 5-2, on Wednesday night.

Orpik added: “But, yeah, it’s a little bit of distance against them. We know they played last night and had a pretty physical game against Toronto. So hopefully that works to our advantage. Hopefully we’re smart and make them go 200-feet for their chances tonight.”

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The game marks the fourth of five meetings between Washington and Columbus this season. The Caps won the last meeting, a win-streak-snapping 5-0 decision on F Street back on Jan. 5. The Jackets, however, won the first two meetings—a 2-1 overtime triumph on Nov. 15 and a controversial 3-2 win five days later.

The teams close out their season series in Columbus on April 2.

“Anytime you’re that close in the standings and you’re in the same division, it’s a big game and you can kinda distance yourself,” winger Tom Wilson said. “But they’re a good team. They’re going to be coming hard and they’ve beat us twice this year already, so that’s in our minds.”

To get two points, though, the Caps are going to need to solve Bobrovsky, who leads the NHL in goals against average (2.04), save percentage (.931) and wins (39).

“I think he’s a top 2 or top 3 goalie in the league, in my opinion,” Alex Ovechkin said of the fellow Russian. “When he’s on his game, it’s very hard to score. He controls the game well. He likes the big moments. He likes the pressure.”

Goals won’t come easily. And neither will a ‘W’. But if the Caps earn one, they’ll also tie the franchise record for wins in a season with their 30th. None of the wins have come in the shootout. The last time they won 30 games without the benefit of a shootout victory? Way back in 1985-86. Washington also won 30 games at Verizon Center in 2009-10, but that mark included four wins in the shootout.    

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