NHL commissioner Gary Bettman throws shade at Toronto Maple Leafs while discussing playoff format

Sporting News

Leafs fans, look away.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman put Toronto on blast Friday when he was asked about the league's postseason format while in Regina, Sask. for the Heritage Classic.

"We think the format we have works extremely well," Bettman said, "unless you're a Leafs fan."

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Low blow, commish.

Here's what the league commissioner was referring to:

What is the current NHL playoff format?

As of the 2013-14 season, the NHL postseason format has been designed to increase intra-division series in the first round of the playoffs, thus enhancing rivalries and familiarity between opponents.

Currently, the top three teams in each division advance to the postseason. The last two spots in each conference are filled by the two highest-remaining teams in terms of points who are wild cards.

The highest point-getter in each conference plays the second wild card team. The other division's top team plays the higher wild card seed. The four remaining teams are matched up against their divisional foes.

Records.NHL.com lists it as so:

Eastern Conference

Series A: Team #1 Atlantic Division vs. Wild Card

Series B: Team #2 Atlantic Division vs. Team #3 Atlantic Division

Series C: Team #1 Metropolitan Division vs. Wild Card

Series D: Team #2 Metropolitan Division vs. Team #3 Metropolitan Division

Western Conference

Series E: Team #1 Central Division vs. Wild Card

Series F: Team #2 Central Division vs. Team #3 Central Division

Series G: Team #1 Pacific Division vs. Wild Card

Series H: Team #2 Pacific Division vs. Team #3 Pacific Division

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What was the previous NHL playoff format?

From the 1998-99 season up until the change in 2013, the first-round format was much more simplified — No. 1 versus No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7 and so on. At the time, there were three divisions in each conference and the top three seeds in each conference were granted to division winners.

To put it plainly:

Team #1 (Division Champion) vs. Team #8

Team #2 (Division Champion) vs. Team #7

Team #3 (Division Champion) vs. Team #6

Team #4 vs. Team #5

Why the jab at the Leafs?

Since the transition was made, Toronto has made the playoffs thrice — all in the last three seasons.

The Leafs have been unable to advance past the first round with losses to Washington (2017) and Boston (2018, 2019). Bettman's comments poked fun at the Maple Leafs' tough first-round matchups the last two seasons. The current format has forced Toronto to play division rival Boston each of the last two years, even though both teams placed within the top five in their conference each year. A weaker first-round opponent in either year could have allowed Toronto to advance further in the postseason.

Both series against the Bruins went to a winner-take-all Game 7. Their loss to the Capitals ended in six.

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What is the alternative format?

Some fans have called for the league to revert back to the previous format. The two Leafs-Bruins first-round series display the divisional format's main issue — because the Atlantic Division has delivered three of the East's top five teams in the last two seasons, two teams with better regular-season success have been forced to duke it out in the first round.

While the commissioner's remarks were made in jest, it does make any notion of changing the postseason format sound far-fetched — at least, for now.

The NBA notably made a switch from their divisional postseason format to a more standard seeding in 2016 where the top eight teams make the playoffs regardless of their division and play No. 1 versus No. 8, No. 2 versus No. 7, etc. in the first round.

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