There has been a lot of talk over the past few weeks about the NHL playoff format. As we approach the playoff season, things look almost set in stone in terms of matchups. For the second year in a row it looks as though the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will meet for a first round clash. There are a lot of people (likely Toronto fans) who are unhappy with the playoff format. The idea that teams in Toronto’s position, having had such a successful regular season, finishing in the top three of their conference, could see their season end being matched up against another top three team from their conference, is bothersome.
I don’t think it’s as big a problem as people are making it out to be. Would I rather see the Leafs play the Penguins right now and see the Capitals play the Islanders? For sure. It sounds more exciting and has more drama. Though, I’d imagine when most fans say they don’t like the format, it’s because they don’t like the idea of their team being eliminated in round one, once again, by the same team. That’s the real challenge of this playoff format — for teams like Toronto to figure out how to beat teams like Boston and make it out of the first round. Your third place divisional teams are never going to be Stanley Cup champions if they can’t get past the second place team, or the first seeded team. At the end of the day, playoff formats are what they are. The format may change in the future, but for now, it looks like Toronto and Boston will inevitably play each other in the first round — and if Boston wins? They probably deserved it and earned it. If Toronto wins? Then they have figured out how to get out of the first round, and they’ll face an even tougher matchup in the second round.
It might be boring to see the same matchup for years upon years, but we’re not there yet — and after everyone gets over the fear of their team losing to the same team again, they are able to recognize the competitiveness the two teams promise. Winning the Stanley Cup won’t be easy, getting out of any round will never be a walk in the park. Get on board with the playoff format. It’s not going anywhere, and neither are the fierce divisional matchups we’re going to get year in and year out.
For any level of competition, sports can be a beautiful thing — a thing of passion and integrity, of love and loss, of grit and perseverance. It creates friendships and bonds that last a lifetime, or at least what we reflect on what felt like a lifetime. It makes us understand the meaning of working hard for something, it makes us understand the feeling of sadness when we don’t get what we want — when the outcome isn’t in our favour. It allows us to experience the joys of hard work paying off, of excelling in the best of times.
At some point in the year, I find myself dedicating a little bit of Sidelines to that of youth sports, something I’ve been involved in since I started playing soccer when I was in the second grade. For the past four years, I’ve been involved as a coach. It has allowed me to see things in a completely different light — something I have an immense amount of appreciation for. The hardest part about coaching is not losing — losing games are the least of anyone’s concern at the end of the day (at least, they should be the least of our concerns). Losing games, big games or not-so-important games, is an opportunity to learn beyond just the sport.
What’s difficult to watch is that there are a handful of athletes and families who don’t understand that sports are about the bigger picture. There are numerous life lessons that come from being involved in sports — being on a team, dedicating time and energy to better yourself for the greater good of a group, and so much more. It’s usually around this time of year — when the whole world — whether it be youth sports or collegiate, or even professional, where oftentimes people can lose sight of what is important in life. It is nice to win, it is nice to have accomplishments, but when you look back on what you’ve done, the things you will remember are the experiences you had and the people you had them with. Valuing the entire process and the journey in sport — not necessarily your journey towards a particular game or event — is truly when you get out of it what matters the most.