Changes in Playoff Structure
The Kings made the playoffs under a very different playoff picture. Under the old guidelines, teams entered Stanley Cup contention based on conference standings, rather than the current divisional-based format.
From 1998-99 through 2014, the league had 2 conferences with 3 divisions apiece. The first place teams from each division were the top 3 seeds. The 4th-8th seeds were comprised of the top 5 point earners from each conference.
The changes in the playoff format and the divisional realignment in 2014 gave us the current wild card system. These changes brought smaller divisions and the introduction of the wild card. The top team in each division plus 2 wild card teams per conference made the playoffs.
The Kings ended the 2011-12 regular season with 95 points. If the current divisional system was used then, the King’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs.
The Pacific division accrued the second-fewest points at the end of the season behind the Southeast. A 95 point finish put the Kings in 3rd in their division. For comparison, the Chicago Blackhawks ended that year with 101 points and were fourth in the Central; the only division that occupied a team that couldn’t crack 70 points (Columbus Blue Jackets).
The competition within the division makes the hunt more difficult. As a result, the Chicago Blackhawks need to leap-frog more teams within their own division to get in.
Recovering Lost Ground
After the All-Star break, the Blackhawks started February with 47 points. By comparison, the King’s kicked off February after the 2012 break with 60.
Even though the Kings were the 8th seed, the Chicago Blackhawks are further behind than Los Angeles was. In an era where points matter more than they ever did, the Blackhawks have a much different battle ahead of them.
What the Kings first ever cup victory tells us is the NHL has changed in many ways over a few short years. The league is faster and teams are structured to generate more offense. The Los Angeles championship is the signal of a dying era.
A defense heavy, low scoring hockey team now feels like an ancient relic.
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The trade deadline is February 25th. The Blackhawks are 4 points out of playoff contention with roughly 2 months left of regular season hockey ahead of them. If Chicago can tighten up defensively and shore up the penalty kill, they could be playing hockey into the spring.