R.J. Umberger(notes) of the Columbus Blue Jackets had the audacity last night of saying exactly what the majority of non-Washington Capitals fans see in the Eastern Conference leaders as they head to the playoffs as a Cup favorite.
"I don't think any team in the West would be overmatched by them," Umberger said. "They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes.
"A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot."
Add in an 'I don't trust their goaltending' or a 'they don't have a shutdown defenseman' and it's an adequate summary of the concerns voiced about Washington as a playoff team.
Capitals loyalists will unleash a litany of regular-season stats reinforcing their team's defensive credentials, which are a great way to win debates in the regular season. Ask the Sharks what they mean when the real competition begins.
Of course, Umberger's filled with bitterness for the Capitals, from his wars as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers to last night's loss with the Jackets. But there's another underlying cynicism to his comments last night: That "any team in the West" can beat the best in the East. Which means the East is the lesser of the conference. Which means, according to others, it's time for a playoff format change.
We usually reach this point every season, in which one conference is deemed superior to the other and the NHL playoff format is scrutinized.
Michael Farber of SI (see point three) made the case for a return to divisional play. Others have wondered what a full 1-through-16 bracket would look like.
On the right is the seeding that hockey nut Steven Rockarts created before Sunday's game, in which 10 Western Conference teams would make the cut.
The cons: Travel would be hell; the regular season conference format would have to be re-imagined or else become immaterial; and it wouldn't emphasize conference/local rivalries, which are the NHL's lifeblood. These are serious, perhaps unfixable flaws.
The pros: Rewarding successful teams whose only sins are playing in a tougher conference, and increasing the quality of the playoffs overall with their inclusion. Plus, Devils/Red Wings in Round 1, which is like "whoa."
Let's be clear: Umberger never said he wanted a playoff format change last night, and we're simply using his "West is Best" comments to lead to a broader discussion. But if you're a Blue Jackets fan, the difference between the West and the East is seeing your team 12 points out of a playoff spot vs. 5 points out.
Which is, we think, a significant difference.