Should the NHL change the playoff format?

As I look at the NHL standing at roughly the half-way mark, I notice that the SE division leader Atlanta Thrashers are in the 3rd position in the East while actually having 1 less point than the 8th place Islanders.

In the West, San Jose has the 3rd position while actually having less points than Colorado and St. Louis.

It does not seem fair to me, especially in the East, where either Atlanta or Tampa will make the playoffs with possibly less points than a number of other teams when teams like the Islanders, Rangers, and even Buffalo must fight it out for the last spot.

The problem doesn’t seem to be as harsh in the West where San Jose would fall around 5th in the conference, but in the East, it is ridiculous. If you tack on the fact that the SE division is consistently the worst of all of the divisions, it is definitely not fair when Atlanta can beat up on Washington and gain valuable conference points when teams like the Isles have to play the Flyers and Devils and teams like Boston and Montreal get stuck playing Toronto and Ottawa numerous times. Yes their is always Pittsburgh to beat up on, but the number of points gained from them is significantly less than the points available in the SE, especially when you consider that 3 out of the 4 teams aren’t in the playoffs as of today and the other technically is in 8th place.

As an Isles fan, I know that a few years ago when they lost to the Maple Leafs in the playoffs, they actually were the 4th best team in the conference. But because Carolina got the 3rd spot when I believe they actually had the 5th or 6th best record, the Isles were pushed to the 5th spot having to play Toronto and they had to give up home ice. That series went 7 and the Isles lost. Now that is not to say that they would have went past the first round because I believe they would have either faced Washington or NJ, but having home ice would have helped.

Therefore, I think to be fair, the NHL should take the top 8 teams no matter what division they are from. If need be, a strength of schedule formula could be used as well, similar to the NFL. Points, than wins, than strength of schedule would be the determinant. It is hardly fair for teams to beat up on weaklings and get to move up as high as number three when other teams have to consistently face top 4 teams and possibly miss the playoffs by a few points.

A case in point: The Isles in the month of December beat NJ 3 times and lost in OT once, split with Philly and beat Toronto. Those three teams are the top 3 teams in the East. That should have more weight than winning 5 games against Florida, Tampa and Atlanta.

Now I know there is anarchy in the BCS, that is why strength of schedule would only be used as a tiebreaker. However I think it should come into play in some way. If would force teams to get better and not rely solely on being the best of the worst.

Currently Atlanta leads the SE. Tampa is out of the playoffs in 9th position. But they only trail Atlanta by 2 points, meaning they could go from missing the playoffs to number 3 in only 2 games. That is ridiculous. And Florida, the 11th team in the conference is only 3 points out. From 11 to 3 in 2 games. Is that fair to Buffalo and the Rangers who trail their conference leaders by 19 and 15 points respectively, yet have better records than Florida? I don’t think so. Beliieve me, I love watching the Rangers miss the playoffs, but this system is not fair.

Now this might end up being a moot point because over the last couple of seasons, the SE leader has fallen in the top 8 anyway and if that happens this year, the injustice isn’t as bad. But if you are going to play a division schedule and then have a conference playoff format, then the system needs to be changed.