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The Sabres Observer

Intradivisional Playoffs Were Bad For Buffalo

Under the NHL’s realignment plan, what would be the worst nightmare scenario for the Sabres?

Actually, it’s already happened.

Intradivisional playoffs were in place from 1982-1993, and there are reasons why the scheme was discontinued.

The most unfortunate sequence of events with this format that I can remember as a Sabres fan took place in the 1989-90 season.  A young John Tortorella was the assistant head coach to Rick Dudley, Mike Foligno was captain, and a couple of kids named Alexander Mogilny and Rob Ray rode into the NHL courtesy of a vapor trail and a pair of fists, respectively.

Some fans and media at the time said Buffalo ran into some bad luck, some said you win with the cards you’re dealt.  Either way, it didn’t work out very well for the Sabres.

Boston, Buffalo and Montreal had three of the top four records in the entire league.  The problem was that, being that these very strong teams were all in the same division, they had to butt heads in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

So, after a stellar regular season capped by 40-goal campaigns from Pierre Turgeon and Dave Andreychuk, the Sabres had the third-highest point total in the NHL but had to face the team with the fourth-most points in the league in the Montreal Canadiens.  The Habs won in six games.

One of the best things about having to play your way out of your


conference is that it seems like you get to face the same playoff opponents every year.  One of the worst things about it is that it seems like you have to face the same playoff opponents every year.  Rivalries and travel cost reductions take priority over fairness.

It’s a sure bet that this structure will bring about more complaints from fans and media of stronger teams that miss the playoffs or get early unfavorable matchups.  History proves it.

Twitter: @DaveDavisHockey

Filed in: | The Sabres Observer | Permalink



Agreed! While I like the new structure over all, I’d much rather get rid of the “top four teams make the playoffs” rule, and go to a “top 16 teams in the league make the playoffs”. Or, if travel is the issue, do top 8 teams in the two eastern and two western most conferences.

Posted by penguinsfan on 12/06/11 at 11:32 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

It is certainly a trade-off, but what is fair about a model where 15 teams have to travel a ton, and the other 15 have to travel very little?

I don’t want to be rude, but this post just sounds like sour grapes from two decades ago coming out.

Excuse the cliche, but you have to beat the best to be the best. The very nature of playoffs or tournament play is that the “best” team will not always win. Trying to make a playoff more “fair” is kind of absurd considering there is very little fair about putting more weight into, at most 28 games played over 82 games played.

As fans, we like a playoff because it gives added intensity, it has lots of tradition, and it trims some of the fat out of the competition. We like the definitiveness. We like having a flashpoint where we know someone didn’t just win the game, but they won it all. We most definitely don’t have playoffs because they are the truest measure of the best club.

The good thing here is that if the matchups get boring after a few seasons, the four conference format can stay the same for regular season play and fairness with travel, but the playoff format could easily get reshuffled. If divisional playoffs really flame out hard, I’d say just take the top 4 teams from each conference and seed them 1 - 16 and play. That way, you’re likely to get lots of fresh matchups, and there’s no potential travel bias by aligning the two eastern conferences and two western conferences. Everyone has an equal chance of drawing a tough travel matchup in the playoffs.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 12/06/11 at 12:35 PM ET

@DaveDavisHockey's avatar

I highlighted an oddity that resulted from the format - not as sour grapes, but as an indicator of future cries of unfairness that you’ll be hearing come April of every year.

Posted by @DaveDavisHockey from Buffalo, NY on 12/06/11 at 12:56 PM ET


the Sabres had the third-highest point total in the NHL but had to face the team with the fourth-most points in the league in the Montreal Canadiens.  The Habs won in six games.

Not being able to beat a team that you should beat has nothing to do with divisions.

Every year the #4 team in both conferences have to face teams very close to them in the standings.  In 2008 Washington were the #3 seed in the East and faced a Philadephia team with more points than them.  Same thing happend in 2006 when Vancouver was #3 and played Dallas who had two more points than Vancouver.

All this does is make “conference” games more important because you know if you make the playoffs you’re going to face a team you’re familiar with.

The only problem I can foresee happening with that is having a GMs build teams to win against conference rivals while being less equipped to beat other teams they’ll eventually face (much like some people say the Sharks are a team that was built specifically to beat the Wings, which they’ve been doing lately, while going down to whichever opponent they face after defeating the Wings).

Posted by Garth on 12/06/11 at 01:10 PM ET

John W.'s avatar

If I were a Sabre fan I’d be ecstatic with the new format, as they are in, arguably, the weakest conference there is.  Out of the 7 teams (BUF, TOR, BOS, OTT, MON, TB, FLA) only Boston is what I would call an automatic playoff team for the foreseeable future.  There will be 3 wide open spots every year.  Much better than being in the other ‘eastern Conference’ where Pittsburgh, Philly, and Washington will likely have 3 of the 4 playoff spots secured every year for quite awhile.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 12/06/11 at 01:19 PM ET

@DaveDavisHockey's avatar

Garth you aren’t comparing apples to apples.  I pointed out that 2 of the top 4 teams in the NHL squared off in the first round.  In ‘08 neither the Caps nor the Flyers were even in the top ten.

Posted by @DaveDavisHockey from Buffalo, NY on 12/06/11 at 01:37 PM ET

bezukov's avatar

The one big distinction I would draw is that the time period you speak of had no salary cap.  There is so much ebb and flow in the NHL at this point that the possibility of getting slapped down by the same handful of teams year after year gets smaller and smaller. 

Someday Boston is going to have to pay out some real coin if they expect to keep Tyler Seguin.  That year will be 2013, a year in which Lucic, Horton, Marchand, and Thomas will all be up for new contracts.  There is no way the Bruins will get to keep all of those guys.  There isn’t any reason to expect that Buffalo wouldn’t be able to take advantage of a (probably) weaker and older Bruins team, especially now that the Sabres have an owner willing to pay for high priced players.

I understand the point you are making about the past, but I don’t think that’s Buffalo’s future.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 12/06/11 at 02:17 PM ET


Even so, in the old format they still would have been 4 &5 in the eastern conference and while we are at it they each got 7 games against the nordiques who were 30 points worse than the next worst team in the league. If the nordiques would have only been somewhat bad that wouldnt have been the situation.  That isnt to say that they werent amongst the best teams, just saying that their record would have been about the same as every other good team had the nordiques been only 20 points better. Then we wouldnt be having this conversation.

Posted by moe from new york on 12/06/11 at 03:23 PM ET


Garth you aren’t comparing apples to apples.  I pointed out that 2 of the top 4 teams in the NHL squared off in the first round.  In ‘08 neither the Caps nor the Flyers were even in the top ten.

You’re right, but it’s more out of balance that a team with a more points wouldn’t have home ice advantage against a team with fewer points.

Cry me a river if your team can’t beat a lower seeded team.  That’s nobody’s fault but your team’s.

Posted by Garth on 12/06/11 at 03:39 PM ET

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]