A better NHL playoff format could have benefited the St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues haven’t been a great hockey team in 2023-24, but you can argue they are better than those in the East battling for a wild card.
Apr 10, 2024; St. Louis, Missouri, USA;  St. Louis Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich (48) celebrates
Apr 10, 2024; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich (48) celebrates / Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s face it: The St. Louis Blues haven’t been a good hockey team in 2023-24, but neither has over half the NHL. Take one look at the Eastern Conference, one team - likely from the Metro - that will snag the second wild card spot in the East. And that one team will likely finish behind the Blues in the league standings.

So, who will get that second spot in the East’s wild card? It’s either going to the aging Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, the overrated Philadelphia Flyers, or the floundering Detroit Red Wings. 

One look at the current format and the fact St. Louis is a better team than all of those mentioned above shows us that the NHL needs to consider changing what has been an awful playoff format since its inception. It’s right down there with the NFL, where teams with losing records get home games in the playoffs because they won in a weak division. 

Rather than stick with this confusing format that makes zero sense, the NHL needs to do a better job of rewarding teams that finish in the top 16 overall while doing what it can to at least make sure each conference and division has representation. 

St. Louis Blues may have been a playoff team if the NHL had a different format

This isn’t to say the NHL needs to scrap everything with the current format, but instead of rolling with what we already have, something like the following proposal would make much more sense: 

  • The six best points totals from each conference (12 spots) get an automatic bid into the playoffs, and the final four spots go to those with the next-best totals, regardless of conference. 

This system would better reward each conference’s and division’s best teams while simultaneously rewarding the ninth or even the tenth-best teams in a conference if they finished the season with a better points total than those who may have otherwise snagged a wild card in the other conference.

For the record, I’m not just saying this because it’s potentially affecting the Blues negatively, depending on what they do in these final two games. If it were the other way around and if the Blues didn’t have a points total that matched teams in the East that fell victim to the numbers game, I’d be saying that they would have had zero business making the playoffs. 

Sure, the format proposed above could easily cause an imbalance, but it would also do a better job of ensuring the league’s top 16 teams made it. There would still be ways a top 16 team could still fall short, but it would be much tougher to keep them out of the postseason.