16 teams make it to the playoffs each season, 8 from each conference. Until a few years ago, within a conference the number 1 seed would face the number 8, number 2 would face number 7, 6 vs 3, and 4 vs 5.
Under the current format, teams face division opponents. Each conference get 2 wild cards. The top seed of the divisions play the wild cards, and the 2nd and 3rd ranked team within each division play a series. Then there will be a division championship followed by the conference championship.
Eventhough the current format promotes divisional rivalry, it seems very unfair. As of March 27 2017, the top 3 teams of the NHL - Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins - are all in the same division. This means that one of the top 3 teams is guaranteed to be eliminated after the first round of the playoffs when the 2nd and 3rd rank teams of this division face in the first round. This also allows for lower quality teams to enter the playoffs in the weaker division.
So given the above argument, I'm wondering why the NHL has stuck to this format? I can understand they wanted a change and came up with this system. But the system is clearly flawed. So why doesn't the NHL come up with another scheme or revert back to the old format?
Note: I say "clearly flawed" since there is a huge difference in the strength of the teams playing in the postseason. The league is trying the maximize the parity of the teams getting and moving forward in the postseason. But the current format benefits weak divisions and disfavours strong divisions. Back to my example, with a very high probability one of the 2nd or 3rd best teams in the NHL is guaranteed to exit the playoffs in the first round. There has been a long discussion whether any team in the Atlantic division really wants the 1st position. The division winner will most likely face New York Rangers, the Wild Card from the Metropolitan division who have more points than any team in the Atlantic. Hence finishing 2nd in the Atlantic division gives the division champion a much easier road to get to the Stanley Cup final.