The playoffs are 'a' approachin'. The great thing about being a Leafs fan at this time of year is that its like the playoffs have already started. The Leafs have six games left, and can't afford to lose many of them. In the Eastern Conference, there are seven teams fighting for four playoff spots.
The Atlanta Thrashers appear to be in the best position, however after losing to lowly Florida last night, I'd be a nervous fan. Tonight, they play the, desperate-and-well-rested, not to mention hot Leafs. If Atlanta loses, they are three points ahead of the other teams, having played one extra game, that means they only have a one point comfort zone and are on a losing streak.
Carolina is in the worst position. On the outside looking in, they lost 6-1 to the Leafs two night ago. And if that wasn't embarassing enough, they dropped a 5-1 decision to the worst team in the league, Philidelphia, last night.
Something that really pisses me off, though, is the rule that first, second and third place in the standings have to be given to one team from each division. It's bad enough when a team is one point behind the first place team (which happens to be in their own division) and gets relegated to fourth. At least they've still got home advantage.
Even worse though, and there is an outside chance that this will happen this year, is say the Leafs, Rangers, Islanders and Canadiens all play their hearts out and gain the points needed to make it into the playoffs.
At the same time, assume Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina all choke, and finish three or four points out of the playoff picture.
That means, in the East, at the end of the season, first through twelfth place "should" look something like this.
1) Buffalo 114
2) New Jersey 106
3) Pittsburgh 105
4) Ottawa 104
5) Rangers 96
6) Islanders 95
7) Montreal 95
8) Toronto 95
(Not in playoffs)
9)Tampa Bay 92
So Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Carolina, all cities which I think are marginal hockey markets at best. Cities which should stick to baseball and football and basketball. Cities without enough fan support to even sell out their arenas in the playoffs. Well, (in my scenario) all of them didn't get enough points to crack the top eight. Boo hoo.
Or did they?
Wait just one second! Remember the 1,2,3 rule. First, second, and third have to be from different divisions. And since there is no team from the Southeast division in the playoff picture, it looks like its between Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay has more wins, so congratulations, here is your go-to-third-place-free card, even though you SUCK and don't deserve it.
So, since you get bumped up, someone has to get bumped down. Let's see, three teams tied at 95 points. The Leafs have the fewest wins and most overtime losses. Sorry Toronto, even though statistically you aren't, you are the weakest link - goodbye!
That really sucks! And for more reasons than one.
Look at Toronto's division. They played top teams Buffalo and Ottawa eight times each. They also played higher standing Montreal eight times. The only other non-playoff bound team in their division is Boston, who aren't all that bad.
Tampa Bay and Atlanta, instead of playing top teams Ottawa and Buffalo, or New Jersey and Pittsburgh eight times each, got to play lowly Washington and Florida from their own division.
So, despite playing almost half their games against easy teams from their own division, none of the teams in the easiest division (in my scenario) could muster enough points to make the playoffs. Yet, due to the freak of nature rule, one of them gets a guaranteed third place finish.
Something is wrong with the NHL.
Fix it Bettman, before you get a riot in a real hockey town.