Not shockingly, it’s because the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, would have to presumably take on both the Lightning and the Bruins– the other two top teams in the East, and Toronto fans and pundits by and large and whiny personalities when they don’t get their way because they feel it’s their birthright to have everything handed to them.
The format the way it is now– to play out of your division before getting to the Conference Finals– is PERFECTLY FINE. If you have a division that’s tough– sobeit. If you have a division that’s weak– that’s fine, too. There’s no reason that it should change because fans wanted more rivalries in their hockey and now that they have it– they don’t want it anymore.
Back when people in Toronto pundits knew about hockey outside of their postal code, there was some kind of pride of winning the division you played in. That your team was the top in a division and you got to lord that over your divisional rivals the entire next season. For some reason, now it’s about having the easiest path to the Conference Finals and potentially the Stanley Cup.
Part of that, I have to say, is the Southeast Division’s craptasticness and their sullying of the divisional title crowns, while not having another team in that division being int he playoffs. That’s what happens when a league feels there needs to be symmetry across the divisions having an equal amount of teams.
There is no playoff system that people will universally agree on. Personally, this system works great in my opinion– especially with the NHL’s push for their national TV broadcast being based around rivalries…kind of. The point is that all the buzzwords come out in the playoffs– grit, desire, passion, hard work– and it seems that they are true…to a point, when you have to face adversity in the first round.
Only redeeming quality is there’s a build-in excuse for some if they go out early– they had to play teams that were too hard to play against. I’m sure that’s something that will fly with a fan base.