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People have it wrong about Toronto fans’ playoff matchup complaints

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Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Fancey
10 months ago
Surprise everyone! The Leafs play the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs in about…err…two weeks or so. We’ve known this since about training camp, and now it’s officially official.
And with that news comes a whole new round of complaints about the NHL’s current playoff format, something that is obviously getting more play in Toronto than anywhere else. We want the old days, 1-through-8. Even the players do.
But I think people (that is, opposing fans) mostly have it wrong about what Leafs supporters are actually complaining about here with regards to the first round. Or at least what I’m complaining about.
Maybe I can only speak for myself, but the problem is not that the Leafs are playing the Lightning in the first round and that matchup is somehow too tough or “unfair”. I get it; There have been fans who’ve taken the issue with, at times, teams who are ranked close together in the top of the league-wide standings having to face each other too early. And I get that gripe too. But that is not what bothers me about the current setup. Like, at all.
Look, even if the Leafs were “unfairly” matched up against the Lightning because they both did well in the standings, I don’t care. It wouldn’t even apply this season anyway. And to me, Toronto sort of lost that angle forever when they dropped series’ to the Blue Jackets and Canadiens. There’s no such thing as a team that is too good or too bad for the Leafs in the first round, they’ve dug themselves into graves either way. No, the Leafs don’t get that excuse. Not now, not ever.
But the current playoff bracket setup is stupid. Worse, it’s boring. And I guess that means this isn’t even about the playoffs really. It’s actually about the regular season.
Sure, in the end the Leafs may have had to play the Lightning in the first round anyway under the old 1-through-8 format. Or at least it would have been close. And that’s fine.
But wouldn’t it be nice for, maybe like a day or two here or there, for it to look like they might play the Rangers…or the Devils? Maybe we could take a look at the Canes roster for once in our lives. Could it be fun to think about another player besides Vasilevskiy for a minute? These teams might be as good or better than the Lightning, so the “Leafs are scared” thing doesn’t even matter. They’re just new, and I want something different to care about.
Again, it isn’t about the perceived difficulty of opponent in the playoffs on April 17, it’s about what the regular season looks like right now. And it’s so boring. I’ve been watching the Leafs for the back half of this season with basically one thought in mind: Hopefully they don’t get injured. Otherwise the standings-tracking has been an absolute wash, and entirely not worth paying attention to.
And don’t get me wrong, I am excited for the Lightning series. The playoffs are worth getting hyped about, Lightning-Leafs is undoubtedly a good series matchup. No one’s arguing that, or at least I’m not.
And should the Leafs lose it, whatever, it isn’t that they were treated unfairly. If anything it looks like they might be getting an opponent with fewer points than they would under the old 1-through-8, and home ice to boot (otherwise they could be on the road against New York in the old format). The divisional format may actually be lucky for the Leafs — can you believe it?
But again, the NHL doesn’t have a playoff problem — that part always delivers. It’s a regular season issue, because it’s difficult not to check out for about the last four months of it.

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