Thoughts on the NHL’s Playoff Format

There’s been buzz of late about the NHL’s playoff format being broken because so many of the league’s top teams happen to be in the Metropolitan Division, with only one of them able to advance to the Eastern Conference Final (barring a cross-over to the Atlantic Division).

Down Goes Brown wrote about it in his Grab Bag for Vice Sports this week.  Like DGB, I’m no stranger to throwing goofy ideas out there, and this got me thinking, so I figured I’d post my thoughts here.

First off, the problem I see with current playoff format isn’t quite what DGB mentions.  Yeah, the Metropolitan Division is stacked and it’s going to be brutal to get out of it.  Short of going to single table (which I’ll talk about below), there is no getting around that.

The issue I see is with the wild card.  Under the right situations, the fourth-place teams in a conference swap places, opening up the possibility of the New York Rangers switching to the Atlantic Division and blowing through the teams there, while the Boston Bruins get pulled over to the Metropolitan Division to face the Washington Capitals (for example).

Get rid of the wild card.  Make it a true cross-over.  If the fifth-place team in one of the divisions is better than the fourth-place team in the other, then they cross over and bump the fourth-place team.  No swapping fourth-place teams.

Under that scenario, the Rangers are locked in and it’s the fifth-place Islanders battling with the Atlantic’s fourth-place Bruins for a spot (per Hockey Reference’s playoff probabilities report).

Keep in mind that the scenario of five teams from one division and only three from the other can already happen.  Also, this still means only one of four strong teams comes out of the Metro.   With only the fifth-place team able to cross-over, however, I think you’re less-likely to see a powerhouse making that move or a team deliberately dropping into a cross-over spot.

But I said I’d talk about single-table.  DGB writes off single-table for TV reasons.  My idea doesn’t totally solve that but it’s a start.

Abolish the conferences.  Let the top sixteen teams into the playoffs.  Then take the eight westernmost teams and put them in one side of the bracket with the eight easternmost on the other.

Yeah, you might see a season where the best teams are all in California, meaning they have to battle each other earlier.  That’s been going on forever.  Short of true single-table, you’re not going to solve that.

This gives you the top sixteen teams and it’s TV-friendly.  It also gives you the oddity of teams like Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis or Dallas regularly switching brackets, as one year they might be among the western teams while another might see them with the eastern group.

Of course, I don’t expect this idea to actually be implemented, I just think it’s worth discussion.

Worth noting: I love (and have previously suggested) the idea of teams drafting their opponents in the playoffs.  For all the reasons DGB noted, it’ll never happen.

Kyle Quincey All-Stars Stay at Seven

Emergency call-up Ben Street did not play for the Red Wings in Montreal last night.  The mystery forward Street was called up to replace (probably Frans Nielsen) was able to play and Street was sent back to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  With that, Street’s chance to become the eighth member of the Kyle Quincey All-Stars passed, at least for now.

As I Tweeted yesterday, the Kyle Quincey All-Stars is my name for the players who have played for both the Red Wings and the onetime-bitter-rival Colorado Avalanche.

Quincey is perhaps the most famous of the set, starting his career in Detroit before going to the Los Angeles Kings via waivers in 2008, then moving on to Colorado via trade in 2009.  In 2012 the Red Wings brought him back via the Tampa Bay Lightning, averting what would have been the first trade between the two teams.

The first member of the group was the infamous Uwe Krupp.  Signed as a free agent by the Red Wings from the Avalanche in 1998, Krupp played just 22 games of the 1998-99 season before suffering a back injury that (after being re-injured) kept him out until the 2001-02 season, when he played eight more games.

Todd Gill was the first player to go from Detroit to Colorado.  After parts of three seasons with the Red Wings, he signed with the Avalanche in 2001.

With just four games played in Colorado and eight in Detroit, Anders Myrvold is the shortest-tenured member of the group.  He broke into the NHL with the Avalanche during their inaugural season of 1995-96, then bounced around quite a bit before coming to the Red Wings’ organization for the 2003-04 campaign.

Brad May played 64 games for the Avalanche across parts of two seasons before being traded to Anaheim in 2007 for a goalie who never played in Colorado.  Anaheim traded him to Toronto in January 2009 for future considerations, then the Red Wings signed him as a free agent at the start of the 2009-10 season and he played 40 games with the team before being sent down to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

May was followed by fellow Number 24 Ruslan Salei.  After parts of three seasons with Colorado, Salei signed a one-year deal with Detroit for the 2010-11 season and played 75 games before fatefully signing with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL.

Brad Stuart is the most recent addition to the group.  With the Red Wings for parts of five seasons, including a Stanley Cup in his first year, Stuart returned to the San Jose Sharks in 2012 for family reasons.  After two years there, the Sharks dealt him to Colorado, where he played just 61 games across two seasons.

Of course, there’s a whole subset of players who were property of one of the teams but never actually played a game for them.  The Darryl Bootlands and Tomas Fleischmanns.  For now, Street remains in that group.

Red Wings Call Up Center Street from Griffins

With injuries mounting, the Red Wings called up center Ben Street from the Grand Rapids Griffins under emergency conditions on Tuesday.

While the team didn’t specifically say who Street would replace in the lineup, the move comes after Frans Nielsen was banged up in Monday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres.  If Nielsen were unable to go in Montreal tonight, Street would be available to play.

Also pointing to the idea of Nielsen missing time is that Street is the Griffins’ second leading scorer, behind Matt Lorito.  Lorito, however, is a winger, and wouldn’t be as suited to replace a center like Nielsen.

Street is the third emergency call-up currently on the Red Wings’ roster.  Tomas Nosek replaced the injured Darren Helm last night against Buffalo while Robbie Russo has been up for Ryan Sproul for the last several games.

On Last Visits to the Joe

I tweeted this just a minute ago but, for reference if nothing else, I think this deserves a post.

With the Red Wings downing the Colorado Avalanche, 5-1, in Colorado’s last trip to Joe Louis Arena, 22 teams have made their final appearance at the Joe.  The Wings have won eleven of those and lost eleven.

They’ve beaten Colorado, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Dallas, Vancouver, Carolina, San Jose, and Nashville.

The NY Rangers, the NY Islanders, St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, Arizona, Philadelphia, Florida, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg have won their JLA finales.

Looking at those lists, I think I’m pretty happy with that.  I mean, you want to win them all, but there are teams you want to beat more than others.  It’d have been nice to send the Rangers or the Blues packing with a loss.  I’d trade one of them for a win over Washington.  But closing out the Joe with wins over the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Penguins, Ducks, Stars, Sharks, and Predators?  That’s a small bit of respectability in an otherwise pretty dismal season.

New Jersey, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo have all yet to play their final JLA game.

For the record, among defunct teams the Wings beat the Colorado Rockies, Minnesota North Stars, and Hartford Whalers in their last visits to the Joe, while losing to the Atlanta Flames, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets, and Atlanta Thrashers.

Red Wings Call Up Tomas Nosek from Griffins

The Detroit Red Wings used an emergency call-up to recall Tomas Nosek from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

In advance of the Wings’ Saturday matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press revealed that Mitch Callahan is injured and another forward may be unable to play, necessitating the emergency call-up of Nosek.  Should that forward be able to play, Nosek will rejoin the Griffins for their game in Chicago tonight.

I’m curious whether the mystery forward is Luke Glendening, who sat out Thursday’s win over the Arizona Coyotes.  Glendening seemed like an odd choice for a healthy scratch at the time and, unlike when Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch, there was virtually no press on it.

If the Wings need another grinding forward, I’d rather see it be Tyler Bertuzzi, but I’m not against Nosek getting a look.  Nosek is waiver-eligible next season so it’s good to figure out a bit more about him at the NHL level before then.

One thing I find interesting is that the Red Wings specifically noted this as an emergency recall, which they did not do when Brian Lashoff was called up on Thursday and then immediately sent down when whichever defenseman was questionable ended up being able to play.

Red Wings Call Up Lashoff

The Detroit Red Wings called up veteran defenseman Brian Lashoff from the Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday.

The team did not specify whether this was an emergency call-up or one of their four allotted post-trade-deadline standard call-ups.

I think the move is a little bit weird. Per Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News, Lashoff is a depth call-up as the Wings had only six defensemen on the roster.  In that case, calling up Lashoff instead of someone like Joe Hicketts makes sense, as you’d rather have Hicketts playing in Grand Rapids than sitting in Detroit.

But if Lashoff is just going to sit, that means it’s a standard call-up, and why burn one of those on a guy who’s just going to hang out in the press box?

Lets be clear, Hicketts wouldn’t have saved the Red Wings’ season, so it’s not like it really matters.  It’s just curious.

Random Thoughts: Closing the Joe with a Win vs. a Higher Draft Pick

I tweeted about this earlier but figured I’d expand on it here.

The Red Wings will host the New Jersey Devils to close out the regular season on April 9th.  As of right now, the two teams are separated by a point, sitting in 28th (New Jersey) and 27th (Detroit) place in the NHL standings.

Per the playoff probabilities chart at Hockey Reference, that’s likely where they’ll finish, with the the Wings at 79 points and the Devils at 75.  Flip a couple games around, though, and it’s not hard to see the teams coming into that last matchup tied in the standings.

The Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes aren’t going to rise any higher than the 30th and 29th they currently occupy, or first and second come draft time when the standings are flipped.  For draft lottery purposes, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights are going to get slotted into the third slot.  The Wings and Devils could enter the last game of the season battling for the fourth overall draft pick (pending any surprises at the aforementioned draft lottery).

This leads to an interesting position if you’re the Red Wings (or a Red Wings fan): Would you rather win the last-ever game at Joe Louis Arena or get a higher draft pick?

Okay, this is a purely mental exercise.  The team isn’t going to lose a game on purpose.  Even if they were, it’s entirely possible the last game of the season won’t matter in the standings.  But, for the sake of discussion, lets say it does.

I’ve been calling for a tank for most of the season but this is still a hard question for me to answer.  Ideally, they’d have dropped a bunch of games leading up to this one and already have the fourth pick locked up.  Then they could come out and have a feel-good win to close the arena without costing anything.

Of course, if we’re talking ideal scenarios, it’s that they win the last game of the season and then win the draft lottery no matter what their final spot in the standings is.

Looking at the draft pool, the guys available in this range are all pretty similar.  Slipping from #2 to #3 or #4 might be a noticeable difference but from #4 to #5 isn’t quite the drop.

As such, I say I’d rather see the Joe get closed out with a win.

On Benching Mantha and Learning Lessons

I’ve Tweeted a bit about being unhappy with Anthony Mantha‘s benching for the Red Wings’ 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.  With him skating as the extra forward again in Saturday’s practice and his status for today’s game against the New York Rangers unknown, I’ve been thinking about it a bit more.

Mantha said all of the right things about being a scratch.  He talked about needing to compete more and about playing at both ends of the ice.  He talked about the team playing well in the game he missed.  And of course he did.  What else did you really expect him to say?

So let’s assume that sitting a young guy is an effective way to teach him a lesson.  The beat writers seem to be running with the fact that Andreas Athanasiou responded to being scratched earlier this year by scoring a goal and two assists in his next game as proof that scratching works, after all.

If that works, where does it end?  Why is 22-year-old Mantha young enough for this method to teach a lesson but 25-year old Riley Sheahan is too old for a benching to get him to focus on the offensive aspects of his game?

Also, is there an additional lesson being learned here?  While Mantha – or Athanasiou or Ryan Sproul before him – sits, Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser play every night, no matter what mistakes they make.  Could that not teach resentment?  Could that not show a young player that he is an acceptable target but a seemingly worse player is safe?

Mantha is saying all the right things.  That doesn’t mean he’s learning exactly what the Wings’ brass wants him to.

Morning After: Red Wings @ Maple Leafs

This was a hard game to watch.

The Red Wings shot themselves in the foot early with a Darren Helm giveaway leading directly to a goal by Alexey Marchenko – the defenseman Detroit gave away for free via waivers because Ken Holland has such a weak grasp on the concept of asset management.

Then Niklas Kronwall takes a penalty and the Leafs score pretty quick on the power play and, ugh, it looks like it’s going to be one of those nights.

Nazem Kadri makes it 3-0 early in the second and the Toronto-based media is calling for a blowout but a strange thing happens.  Despite not managing a shot for about 15 minutes in the middle period, the Red Wings turn it on for the last five minutes and Gustav Nyquist scores.

Nyquist adds another just 36 seconds into the third and suddenly it’s a game.  But not really because most of the rest of the period is just the two teams fumbling around with each other.

We end with controversy, as Henrik Zetterberg gets high sticked – with a significant amount of blood drawn – and there’s no penalty.  Not that I want to have games relying on the Red Wings’ power play, but that could have made a massive difference.

After an earlier marginal goalie interference call on Nick Jensen, the missed high stick just adds to the “hard to watch” aspects of the game.  Yes, missed calls always go both ways and over a season they probably even out, but combined with the “Toronto Maple Leafs: Team…  Of…  Dessssstiny” narrative, it feels like the ice is tilted.

In the end, it wasn’t all bad.  Most of the losses this season haven’t been.  They just haven’t been good enough.  Late start, comeback falls short, blah blah blah.

On the plus side, Robbie Russo didn’t look horrible in his NHL debut.  A beat too slow in his decision making, probably (Mickey Redmond was harping on Russo taking too many hits), but his skating looked good.

Nyquist and Zetterberg also looked good.  Like the game mattered to them more than it did to some others.  There’s been some talk about not losing the culture of winning that the Red Wings have had and how Zetterberg is carrying that on even as the team misses the playoffs and I think you could really see that last night.

Wings Defenseman Sproul Done for Season

Detroit defenseman Ryan Sproul‘s “sprained knee” turned out to be an ACL injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season.

The injury was suffered during the Red Wings’ 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. Robbie Russo has been called up to take Sproul’s place and will make his NHL debut tonight in Toronto.

I was really looking forward to seeing what Sproul would do with a spot in the lineup assured.  I’ve written before about liking that Sproul got a chance to make mistakes, only for him to immediately be benched for long periods of time in response to those mistakes.  With the Wings’ carrying only six defensemen for the rest of the season, it would have been an opportunity for Sproul to play without fear of losing his spot.

I’m excited to see what Russo can do, but disappointed that it comes at Sproul’s expense.