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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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Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

CHICAGO—As excited as Barry Trotz was about retaining T.J. Oshie’s goal production, he was just as pleased to keep all the intangibles the 30-year-old brings to Washington's lineup. 

“For us, that was the highest priority,” Trotz said of re-signing Oshie. “Obviously, Osh means a lot to us.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps locked up the high-scoring winger to an eight-year, $46 million contract extension. 

“I think it sends a great message to not only our team [but] our fans,” Trotz said. “You see what Osh did the last two years. He’s a big part of our culture, a big part of our success.”

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Oshie has put up back-to-back career highs in goals, scoring 26 in 2015-16 and 33 last season. He’s also a lead-by-example type who plays bigger than his 6-foot, 189-pounds.

“He’s a guy that brings energy,” Trotz said. “He’s a guy that consistently brings a high compete level, a high execution level and a relentless attitude. That’s Osh.”

The Caps now have four of their top-6 forwards from last season under contract, with Oshie joining Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, meantime, is expected to re-sign, while Andre Burakovsky figures to round out the top two lines. Burakovsky is also a restricted free agent.

“We knew we were going to lose some guys,” Trotz said. “We still feel we’re going to be a high-scoring team. Obviously Osh had a career year last year. We’re hoping that he can build on that and have other people step in and fill some roles.”

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MacLellan: Caps made 'a couple of good' offers but lost Schmidt to Vegas anyway

MacLellan: Caps made 'a couple of good' offers but lost Schmidt to Vegas anyway

CHICAGO—The Caps tried to work out a side deal with Las Vegas ahead of Wednesday’s expansion draft but were unable to dissuade the Golden Knights from ultimately plucking a player off their roster, GM Brian MacLellan said. 
 
Vegas, of course, selected Nate Schmidt, a 25-year-old defenseman whom Washington left exposed. The Caps had Schmidt penciled into a top-4 role for next season.   
 
“We made a couple of good offers, I think,” MacLellan said Friday night at United Center, where the NHL was hosting the entry draft. “I think they just liked Schmidt.”

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MacLellan said Vegas’ asking price was “a couple of assets” but he declined to be specific. 
 
“I think in the end, they really like Schmidt,” MacLellan said. “At one point, we thought they were taking [backup goaltender Philipp] Grubauer. They probably were making a choice down to the end, and they ended up choosing Schmidt.”
 
The loss of Schmidt leaves the Caps with a hole on the blue line that they haven't quite figured out how to fill just yet, MacLellan said. 
 
The Caps currently have four defensemen—Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney—under contract for next season. Restricted free agent Dmitry Orlov, meanwhile, is expected to re-sign. But that still leaves Washington one short of three full pairs, and that doesn't factor in the need for a quality seventh so they've got some work to do.

“We have a job opening,” MacLellan said. “We’re going to look at [our] young guys, look at free agents, maybe the trade market. We’ll see. We’ll pursue all avenues and see what we can come up with.”

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