There are a lot of complaints about the NHL playoff format. Specifically, there are complaints from Leafs fans, who may in fact face the toughest playoff route to win the Stanley Cup, save for the teams that will have to play the Leafs.
The Leafs will probably win the Cup this year, but the NHL should really just make it easier for them. Having the largest fanbase, it makes the NHL money if they do well. And they should make that easier, so the NHL makes more money. It only makes sense.
The Leafs, as you probably know, are very good at hockey. Unfortunately, we cannot deny there are two other teams that are also good at hockey that play in the same division in Boston and Tampa Bay. Buffalo is not good at hockey, but they pretend to be. The way the NHL is currently set up, it seems like the Leafs will definitely have to beat one of those three teams in the first round of the playoffs, before playing one of the other two teams in the second round. The ideal path under the current format would be knocking out one of Tampa Bay or Boston, before lucking into somehow playing Buffalo. We shouldn’t really need to break down how the NHL playoff format works, but this could happen if the Leafs finish second in their division, beat Boston in a series of the 2-3 teams in the Atlantic Division, and have Tampa Bay fluke out to a loss against Buffalo. From there, they’d play whatever garbage roster the Metropolitan Division rolls out, and then like Winnipeg or some stuff.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Leafs could simply get an easier path if there was no divisional realignment. Under the current NHL standings and the old 1-8 playoff format, as of today’s standings, they’d play Columbus in the first round, and then Buffalo, and then Tampa Bay in the Conference Final, assuming no upsets until then. Buffalo would probably lose in the first round though, meaning the Leafs would actually play Washington in the second round while the Habs get stomped by Tampa. In fact, cut it down to eight teams. Either four teams per conference, or just eliminate the Western Conference. Their games are late anyway and we have better things to do.