When asked about the structure, Stamkos used the Lightning's Atlantic Division rivals as a prime example of the division-based format hurting some of the league's top teams.
"I don’t think it’s an advantage to Toronto or Boston (who will likely meet in the first round),'' Stamkos said, according to the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran. ''What could be the top three teams in the whole league from one division, and have to play that team in the first round - I don’t think that’s right.”
The format doesn't bode well for Tampa Bay, either, as the team will face the winner of the probable Toronto-Boston series if it advances to the second round. Last season, the Lightning finished atop the Eastern Conference with 113 points and were forced to meet the second-place Bruins in the second round.
"I understand where (the league) is coming from, (from) a marketing perspective, wanting to get some rivalries early on," Stamkos added, "(but) from a (team) perspective of what you’re grinding 82 games for during a season is to finish as high as you can so you can have an advantage come playoffs."
Stamkos' good friend and Canadian World Cup of Hockey teammate in Tavares took his usual diplomatic approach on the issue but did point out that the format impacts one advantage that teams work hard to acquire.
“Mostly, it affects home ice," Tavares said of potentially starting on the road despite finishing third in the conference. "It’s odd. It’s unusual. At the same time, if you want to get to the ultimate prize, you’ve got to beat some really good teams - the best teams in the league, the best players in the world. Whether that comes early or later on, you’ve got to find a way to do it.”
The Maple Leafs opened last year's postseason on the road in Boston despite finishing tied with the third-best point total in the Eastern Conference.