Playoff format irks Sundin

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

ATLANTA -- Every time Mats Sundin dares to peek at the standings, he reads the numbers and seethes at what he perceives as injustice.

"I don't think it's right," the Maple Leafs captain said. "I just don't like that part of the system."

Sundin isn't talking about the Leafs' forever-in-doubt playoff status. He isn't talking about a league that awards more points for some games than others.

He is talking about the break of being in the Southeast Division, where a first-place team -- as of yesterday afternoon it was the Atlanta Thrashers -- get a choice spot in the playoff standings while more accomplished teams with more points, such as the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins, get pushed back.

"You should be seeded by how many points you get, not being in a (soft) division," Sundin said.

On Tuesday, the Leafs tore apart the dubious Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. Tonight, where the Final Four dwarfs anything that is hockey here, it is yet another must-win against the occasionally emerging Thrashers.

"The last two Stanley Cup champions came from that division," Sundin said. "Try to figure that out."

We have and we can't.

The Tampa Bay Lightning never has looked the part of contender since winning the Cup. The Hurricanes have followed their win with a season lacking. This year, the teams in the Southeast have one thing in common: Not one of them have scored more goals than they have allowed.

"We've been on the bad end of that a couple of times," Sundin said. "One year we were seeded fifth one year when we should have been seeded fourth. Another year we should have been third, and we were fourth. It changes who you play. It affects you."

Paul Maurice used to coach in the Southeast Division. He is as perplexed as anyone by the Cup runs from the South.

"If you look at it, it's possible the first place team in the South may not have enough points to (otherwise) qualify for the playoffs," Maurice said.

How is that fair?

It's worse for the Senators and Penguins. It's all but assumed they will meet in the first round of the playoffs. One of the top four teams in the East will be gone by the end of Round 1.

And the sixth seed in the East may get a bonus by drawing whichever Southeast team ends up winning a race no one seems capable of winning.

"These are teams with high-end talent," Maurice said.

Teams with high-end talent, but teams that are flawed. Atlanta has Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, Keith Tkachuk and Slava Kozlov and enough offence to make life miserable for the Leafs. But then so did Carolina with Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour and Erik Cole and Ray Whitney and look what happened Tuesday night. And Tampa Bay has the big three -- Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis (okay, so one of them is small) -- and not much else.

Why? Name the best defenceman in the Southeast Division. Maybe it's Dan Boyle. Maybe it's Jay Bouwmeester. Maybe it's nobody.

"The hockey is different in the South," Maurice said. "The style is different. It's not as physical. The teams play a more open style. It's why they give up so many goals against."

It's also why Sundin wonders if the Leafs will be victim to a system he insists is anything but fair.


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