NBA analyst Jalen Rose made an appearance on ESPN Radio’s The Dan LeBatard Show yesterday, and he made an interesting comment regarding playoff seeding.
Rose suggested the NBA should implement open playoff seeding. This would mean the top 16 teams in the NBA would be ranked 1-16 regardless of conference. The first-ranked team would play the 16th-ranked team, the second-ranked team would play the 15th-ranked team, the third-ranked team would play the 14th-ranked team and…well, you get the idea.
I like this idea a lot for one simple reason: it’s fair. In the NBA, the Western Conference is much stronger than their Eastern counterparts. As Rose pointed out, the second-ranked team in the East, the Miami Heat, would only be ranked fifth in an open format.
It’s the same story in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins, ranked second in the East, would be ranked sixth in an open format. The NHL’s new playoff format, which was implemented in the offseason, is even more skewed than the NBA’s because it seeds teams based on division.
So if the playoffs started today, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, ranked fifth and sixth in the East based on record, would face each other in the first round. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, ranked third and fourth in the East, would have to duke it out in the first round.
Under the NBA’s (and the NHL’s old) format, the Habs and Flyers would be opponents, as would the Lightning and Rangers. This makes a lot more sense than the NHL’s skewed divisional format.
I understand the NHL’s thinking in implementing the current model. It promotes rivalries, so you would have a greater chance of seeing a Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens or Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers matchup in the playoffs. But it does this at the expense of common sense.
Here’s how the first round would shape up if the playoffs began today in an open format:
#1 St. Louis Blues vs. #16 Detroit Red Wings
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #15 Columbus Blue Jackets
#3 San Jose Sharks vs. #14 Phoenix Coyotes
#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #13 Philadelphia Flyers
#5 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #12 New York Rangers
#6 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #11 Minnesota Wild
#7 Colorado Avalanche vs. #10 Tampa Bay Lightning
#8 Los Angeles Kings vs. #9 Montreal Canadiens
I smell an upset in that Penguins-Wild series.
The obvious concern players might have with this format is travel. But if anything, the long travel would give a greater advantage to the higher ranked team that gets to spend more games in their own friendly confines. The NHL could always switch the 2-2-1-1-1 format to a 2-3-2 to ease the travel load, which is what the NBA used in its finals until last year.
Do the right thing, Gary Bettman. Be a leader among the commissioners of the four major North American sports and implement open playoff seeding.