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Above the Glass

So, how high were the people who invented the playoff format?

The WHL playoffs get underway this weekend, and the NHL playoff hype machine is whirring. Now would be a good time for bears of very little playoff brain like myself to figure out how this whole deal works. Mainly: 1) What drugs were the inventors of this highly scientific system doing when they created it? 2) How much of said medication do I need to take to understand it? 3) How the heck did Tampa Bay fall out of contention for a division title? Wait, don’t answer that. I think I figured it out. Sort of.

By now, you may have figured out I don’t know diddly about numbers, but since points do determine whether you make the playoffs or not, let’s start there: As far as I can tell, the points needed to make the playoffs varies from year to year and between Conferences. It’s not a set number, because it depends on how many points the top team gets and then everybody else gets in based on that. In 2011, current point totals indicate that it will take 97 or 98 points to make the Western Conference. It might have something to do with this: the Vancouver Canucks are the first team to clinch a berth, with 103 points. Oh, and that makes them the Division champions because at this point no one could catch them.  Meanwhile over in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers and the Washington Capitals are in with 97 and 96 points, respectively. Also pretty much in at this point are the Bruins, Penguins, Lightning, Canadiens, Rangers and Sabres. And since points are tied to wins, I now see how Tampa fell from grace so quickly.

Now that I understand that…well, ok, not really, but if I did, how does a team clinch a playoff berth?: It’s probably way more scientific than this, but I think it boils down to you’ve racked up so many points that even if the other teams in your conference racked up all their maximum points possible right now, they still couldn’t catch you.

Planting the seed: Seeding is based on where the team ends up in the standings. Sort of. The division winners in each conference are seeded Nos. 1 - 3, while the remaining teams are seeded Nos. 4 - 8 based on point totals. Teams are reseeded after each round. Here’s where I’m a little fuzzy: why doesn’t the seeding just follow the standings (first place is first seed and so forth)? Is it possible for the number 6 team, for example, to be higher in the standings and be seeded lower? Apparently it is, because:

Breaking ties: As if it wasn’t complicated enough, in their infinite wisdom, the NHL decided that their system was just a little too simple and therefore a new wrinkle needed to be introduced just to keep it interesting. Ya’ know, just in case that whole head hit thing didn’t keep them busy enough. This season, the league introduced new tiebreaker rules, the most important of which is that shootout wins will not push a team over the points edge and into the playoffs. It goes like this:

Tiebreaker: In the event teams are tied in the standings, the following tiebreakers are applied to determine which team receives the higher seeding:
1. The fewer number of games played (i.e. superior points percentage)
2. The greater number of games won (i.e. not including games won in a shootout)
3. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. If two clubs are tied, and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any “odd” games, shall be used to determine the standing.
4. Goal differential.

I’m not going to ask what an “odd” game is. I’m not sure I want to know. But if I was in charge of defining an odd game, this would qualify: Somehow they both involve the Pens and the Islanders. An odd game is one in which Sidney Crosby scores no points, no assists and the Pens fall to the worst team in the league, breaking his point streak. An odd game can also be one in which both teams forget that the seventies are over and there was a little thing called a lockout where new safety and other rules were invented to prevent bench-clearing brawls and games where players rack up at least 15 fighting majors and more than 300 combined penalty minutes. An odd game can also be one in which players restrain from swearing, spitting, chirping, or expressing their displeasure at pretty much everything the refs say and do. 

Get a hobby: The tiebreaker rule alone is proof that not only were the inventors of this system high on multiple forms of self-medication, they have way too much free time on their hands. I propose an addition to this rule that includes a requirement that the rulemakers provide the NHL with proof that they have at least two legitimate hobbies outside work, to include but not be limited to: golf, knitting, belonging to a book club, playing on a beer league team at least three times a week, restoring antique autos and driving them 35 miles an hour on the 70 mile an hour speed limit freeway to an obscure car show in the back lot of a high school in a small town, or gardening. No exceptions will be granted for anyone with only one or no hobbies.

If they weren’t high, then it must be this: This system is a lot like an NHL version of the game Twister: right hand red, left foot blue, right foot green, left hand blue. I stand corrected: maybe the people who invented it did have a hobby and this was it. Then they started drinking and doing whatever else et voila, out comes the NHL playoff system.

Nobody panic, there is at least one thing I understand: Once teams are seeded, they play each other in a logical pattern that matches the highest seed with the lowest seed, and proceeds in descending order from there: 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5.

Parting shots: Why do I have the feeling this entry is going to have a lot of comments that start with something like “you’ve almost got it Samantha,” “not quite,” “you don’t get this at all” or “you’ve got it backwards?” No worries. Let ‘er rip. Because clearly I need special help. And special medication.

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Comments

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Nope, you’ve got it right.  How else to explain 3-point games?  It’s like a children’s soccer game where everyone gets ice cream, no matter the score.  Ice cream.  Munchies.  Getting high.  It all makes sense.

Posted by PRC. on 03/23/11 at 08:23 PM ET

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about breaking ties: the rule about the odd games seems well, odd. I kno. But I imagine that the “odd game” thingie was addes after 2 teams had the same amount of points, same amount of games played and same goal differential.

Because, all those things are way easier to determine than who won the most games against each other. And to make sure that in that specific case no team gets the “home ice” advantage it was added that: when team A has played 3 games at home versus team B, and team B only 2 games at home versus team A, that the first home game team A played against team B doesn’t count.

Posted by malamut on 03/24/11 at 08:27 AM ET

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It could be worse.  It could be setup so that the winners of each division are seeded 1 and 2 and the rest of conference is seeded by points, and after the first round the entire seeding process is started all over so that the teams with the highest points totals going into the second round have home ice regardless of how the finish in their division and setup such sillyness that it would be possible for the 1 and 2 seeds from the first round end up meeting in the second round and two teams from the same division end up playing in the third round for the Conference championship…

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Oh wait, that’s the WHL…  *GRIN*

Posted by The1Paladin from Portland OR on 03/25/11 at 02:27 AM ET

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com