Starting with the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL introduced a revolutionary new concept of basing the Stanley Cup Playoffs on conferences, and not on divisions. While the number of divisions in each conference increased from two to three in 1998, the overall format of the playoffs has stayed the same: Division winners get the top seeds and are ranked by points, and the six (five starting with the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs) best non-division winners fill out the remaining part of the field in each conference, with again seedings being based on points. Is there a particular seed that matters? Is there a great advantage historically speaking in having the top seed over having the two seed or the four seed? In part 1 of this two part series, I will take a look at each Stanley Cup finalist by seed since the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs and try to see what the historical importance of the one or two seed is, if any. (note: Eastern Conference teams always listed first, regardless of seed)
1997: #3 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings (winner: #3 Red Wings)
1998: #4 Washington Capitals vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings (winner: #3 Red Wings)
2000: #4 New Jersey Devils vs. #2 Dallas Stars (winner: #4 Devils)
2001: #1 New Jersey Devils vs. #1 Avalanche (winner: #1 Avalanche)
2002: #3 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #1 Detroit Red Wings (winner: #1 Red Wings)
2003: #2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Anaheim Ducks (winner: #2 Devils)
2005: Eff you, Bettman.
2006: #2 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #8 Edmonton Oilers (winner: #2 Hurricanes)
2007: #4 Ottawa Senators vs. #2 Anaheim Ducks (winner: #2 Ducks)
2008: #2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #1 Detroit Red Wings (winner: #1 Red Wings)
2009: #4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #2 Detroit Red Wings (winner: #4 Penguins)
2010: #7 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #2 Chicago Blackhawks (winner: #2 Blackhawks)
Total number of Eastern Conference Stanley Cup appearances by seed
The fact that 5 four-seeds, including 3 after the 1998 re-alignment is really quite stunning, especially when you consider that there have been a grand total of 0 four AND five seeds to reach the Stanley Cup Finals since 1994 with the start of the new system. My condolences to the two Western Conferences teams who end up with that fate.
For more telling numbers, here are the total number of Stanley Cup appearances since 1994, combining both Eastern and Western Conference teams.
When you combine the two conferences, you can see real patterns begin to emerge. The exact same number of #1 seeds have appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals then #2 seeds. In fact post-lockout, as you can see for yourself above, the #2 seed has been to the Stanley Cup finals four times while the #1 seed has only made it once (2008 Red Wings).
Now let's take a look at Stanley Cup winners by seed since 1994.
This all but confirms what I have been saying on here for the past few weeks. It is okay if the Washington Capitals win the Eastern Conference and the #1 seed. It is not okay if the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Atlantic Division and the Flyers become the #4 seed. The #1 seed has only won one more Stanley Cup than the #2 seed since the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs and has appeared in the same number of Stanley Cup finals as the #2 seed. While people may point to the five Eastern Conference teams to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in the East being more than any other single seed, I can assure you that this is a number that defies all logic and probability. 4 seeds and 5 seeds not making the Stanley Cup Finals at all out of the West I think shows how much of an anomaly the five out of the East is, although that itself is probably a bit of an anomaly. Combine the higher end anomaly with the lower end anomaly, and you end up with a number (5) that fits in well with the overall trend of the data. Keep in mind, starting in 1999, the 3-seed was simply the worst of the 3 division winners and the 4-seed was the best of the non-division winners so quite frequently the 4-seed ends up being better than the 3-seed. In fact, if the season ended today, the 4th seed Penguins would finish the regular season with one more point than the 3rd seed Bruins.
The Flyers chance of being the #1 seed is now between 2 and 3 percent, according to Frank Seravalli. In order to get it, the Flyers will have to win out, have at least one of those wins not be in a shootout, and hope the Caps lose to the Panthers on Saturday. Unless the highly improbable happens, the Flyers are playing for the 2-seed, while trying to avoid the 3-seed and the 4-seed at all costs. And if the Flyers can hold off the Penguins and the Bruins to claim the 2-seed, it will not be the worst thing in the world. In fact, if recent history tells us anything, it may in fact be just as good as a #1 seed in terms of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
(Part 2 of Plant The Seeds will come early next week and will take a look at the exact history since 1994 of the seed the Flyers ultimately earned.)