Patrick Kane’s no-conference playoffs idea would help NHL this season despite hurting Blackhawks

Kane suggested at the All-Star Game a postseason format that seeds teams 1-to-16 leaguewide. With the East dominating this season, that would be a lot more equitable.

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Patrick Kane suggested at the All-Star Game a playoff format that ignores conferences and seeds teams 1-to-16. With the East dominating the West this season, that would solve a major NHL inequity.

Patrick Kane suggested at the All-Star Game a playoff format that ignores conferences and seeds teams 1-to-16. With the East dominating the West this season, that would solve a major NHL inequity.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Every season, the NHL’s heavily structured, division-focused playoff format creates all sorts of injustices across the league.

This season is no different.

If the season had ended Tuesday, the first round would match the league-leading Capitals against the ninth-place Flyers and the fourth-place Penguins against the sixth-place Blue Jackets. Meanwhile, the 15th-place Oilers somehow would draw the 16th-place Golden Knights.

In a world thoroughly familiar — thanks to March Madness — with how a normal 16-team bracket should look, those matchups are clearly absurd.

And the players, including Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, realize that, too.

‘‘It would always be pretty cool to play — I don’t know it’s ever possible — [with] the 1-to-16 teams making the playoffs and reseeding from there,’’ Kane said during All-Star festivities last month. ‘‘I always found it was fun in playoffs to play some different teams. I know [the NHL likes] the divisional matchups and the rivalries, but I think that’s where rivalries are created: in the playoffs.

‘‘Obviously, Vancouver wasn’t in our division, but we had such a big rivalry with them. Whenever we’d play them in the regular season after our [2010 and 2011] playoff series, it was a crazy game.’’

‘‘I know they want the rivalries from the division, but I think you can create that rivalry from somewhere else.’’

Kane isn’t the first to suggest a 1-to-16 playoff format, but he is perhaps the first to do so on a team that isn’t being hurt right now by the current format.

In fact, the Hawks would be hurt by the 1-to-16 format he’s proposing if it was in place this season, considering the Eastern Conference’s dominance (partly because it’s better, partly because the Red Wings’ ineptitude has inflated all their division rivals’ records).

The Hawks entered play Wednesday three points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They would have been eight points out in the East.

In the long run, however, it certainly would make the postseason field more accurately reflect the NHL’s 16 best teams — and give the top teams the relatively weak first- and second-round opponents they deserve. The Maple Leafs and Hurricanes, currently out of the playoffs in the East despite ranking 13th and 14th in the league, would make it under those circumstances.

The 1-to-16 format also would create intriguing matchups between franchises that have little to no history against one another. Intense series nonetheless could create distinct (and hostile) relations over time, as was Kane’s point.

If the season had ended Tuesday, a 1-to-16 playoff format would have produced the following matchups: (1) Capitals vs. (16) Golden Knights; (2) Bruins vs. (15) Oilers; (3) Blues vs. (14) Hurricanes, (4) Penguins vs. (13) Maple Leafs; (5) Lightning vs. (12) Panthers; (6) Blue Jackets vs. (11) Avalanche; (7) Islanders vs. (10) Canucks; and (8) Stars vs. (9) Flyers.

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If the regular season ended Tuesday, here’s how the playoff matchups would have stacked up in each format.

The average distance between the teams in those eight theoretical series is 1,265 miles, more than double the average of 527 miles between teams under the current format. And that geographical challenge, especially as some players call for reduced travel, is a substantial roadblock.

But the NHL playoffs already require plenty of travel, and recent Stanley Cup matchups such as Capitals-Golden Knights and Penguins-Sharks overcame that smoothly.

The coming months likely will bring lots of heartburn about conference inequity, so this issue won’t fade away. And Kane’s suggestion could fix the problem.

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