by Jon Jordan on 03/14/11 at 01:58 PM ET
My latest collection of thoughts and opinion on recent events in the hockey world (tied together, of course, by less-than-nothing). In short, a little of this, a little of that and maybe even some of the other…
Three-Pointers Risk Diminished Integrity of the Standings
As the NHL GMs meet this week in Boca Raton, much of their agenda will focus on player safety – and rightfully so. Headshots, blindside hits and concussions will dominate their discussions.
But something not on the agenda this week that has been eating at the integrity of the standings in each conference since the lockout is the existence of the “loser point” in the all-too common three-point game – and, frankly, it’s beyond time to reconsider the way team standings are configured once again.
I won’t go railroading against the shootout again today. There seems no point in that anymore anyway, as it is here to stay, the way I understand things. The more valid argument instead is far simpler: The return of two points – and only two – on the line for each and every regular season game. The way things are now, which essentially rewards mediocrity and runs the risk of skewing the standings in such a way that deserving teams might be penalized through no fault of their own, is unacceptable.
That a team can conceivably miss the postseason, miss out on a home ice position in the playoffs or lose a shot at some other favorable rank in the standings because another has almost won more times than they is the real problem here. A shift to a two-points-or-bust ideology wouldn’t do much to the parity in today’s standings and would ensure that a more worthy club would never have the very real beef at season’s end of losing out to a team that lost more games in the regular season than they did.
Consider a couple of examples, one generic and the other specific to the current standings:
In a ten game season, where the top two teams in the standings will earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, Team X goes undefeated at 10-0 for 20 points, earning their bye without any argument. Team Y goes 5-0-5, with some combination of overtime and shootout losses making up the third column, earning 15 points overall but, really, only winning half of their games. Team Z goes 7-3 for 14 points but still finishes third in the final standings under the NHL’s current criteria and, thus, misses out on a first round bye despite a .700 legitimate winning percentage to Team Y’s .500. (Naturally, the NHL would argue that Team Y’s WP is .750, having “earned” 75% of the possible 20 points available in the regular season but those five losses in extra time still being losses – as in not wins – goes a long way toward rendering this designation of winning percentage inherently flawed.)
Taking the loser points out of this season’s current standings wouldn’t exactly yield dramatic results, as the East’s top eight would remain as is, with only Buffalo and the New York Rangers flip-flopping the seventh and eighth positions but, over in the West, the Anaheim Ducks are Team Z from the previous example, essentially (only worse).
An altered, more traditional standings configuration would take the Ducks from 79 points (good for 10th in the West at present) down just five points to 74, which would slot them ahead of both Phoenix (83 down to 72) and Calgary (81 to 72) and into a playoff spot.
With the standings the way they are, if the season were to end today, Anaheim (37-32 on the year – a .536 winning percentage, traditionally-speaking) would finish below the likes of Phoenix (36-34, .514), Calgary (.507) and Nashville (.507) and out of the playoffs.
How did the existence of this very real possibility ever make sense?
Seems to me that two points for a win and none for a loss – even if that means games truly settled via the shootout – is the only way to go.
Don’t like putting 65 (or 70?) minutes of work on the line during a skills competition? Win it in OT, then. Or get better, as a group, in one-on-one competition. Either way, no excuses.
A winner and a loser, you know, as competitions tend to go.
For what it’s worth, I’d go five minutes of five-on-five overtime and then five more of four-on-four. You’d shrink the frequency of shootouts then – significantly, I would think – and you wouldn’t cheapen the game any further, as would be the case in the oft-mentioned additional five minutes of three-on-three play.
A win’s a win and a loss is a loss (and I should note that, in hindsight, I had no problem with regular season ties) but without the ol’ kiss-your-sister, there should be no in between.
Come to Think of It…
After what I’ve just put forth, I’m remembering that we do live in a society these days where they don’t keep score in youth sports in some places and everyone “wins” in the end, so maybe I’ve just spent time rallying for a lost cause.
I can’t help but wonder, then, if they’ll start handing out brown medals, or something, in the Olympics some day… ‘Cause, you know, fourth place is only thiiiiiiiis far away from third.
While the story of the bulk of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season so far has been the surprising level of success the Bolts have managed, their recent fall from the top spot in the Southeast Division and the widening gap between them and first place Washington has been quite the surprise as well.
If you’re like me, you expected a resurgent Lightning club this season with the stability of new ownership, the optimism that came with Steve Yzerman running things and the enthusiasm of a young and very much in demand head coach in Guy Boucher. But you probably didn’t expect Tampa Bay to shoot directly to the top of the Southeast and leave the Caps significantly behind for much of the year as they did either.
Perhaps it was too much, too soon for Tampa Bay and, as we discussed last weekend, perhaps a reinvigorated Bolts bunch was exactly what Washington needed for a jolt to their own system. After all, it isn’t as though they’ve had any horses to run with in the Southeast in recent seasons.
But the Lightning gave us no indication of any forthcoming fall from grace prior to the current skid of 1-4-2 in their last seven games and an overall downturn that has them just 5-6-4 in their last 15. Before all of this, consistency was Tampa Bay’s calling card, as they’d had just one legitimate lull on their schedule – a November swoon during which they dropped five of six and managed only three of a possible 12 points. That stretch and their ongoing woes aside, the Bolts have fallen in consecutive games just three other times all year and have no other real losing streak to speak of.
All of this, coupled with Washington’s return to prominence to the tune of eight straight wins and 10 in their last 11 has the Capitals enjoying a five-point lead in the Southeast and a shot at the top spot in the conference, trailing Philadelphia by just a single point with 12 games remaining on their schedule.
The Lightning will play their game in hand on Washington tonight, as they are in Toronto to face a Maple Leafs team clinging to life in the playoff race themselves. Beyond that, Tampa will play seven of their final 12 on the road, with games in Montreal, Ottawa, Carolina (twice), Minnesota, Chicago and Buffalo in addition to home tilts against the Islanders, Hurricanes, Senators, Penguins and Panthers.
Washington, meanwhile, starts an unenviable six-game roadie of their own in Montreal tomorrow night, with stops thereafter in Detroit, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Ottawa before returning to Montreal a week from Saturday to finish the trip. Fare well against the majority of these formidable opponents and the Caps could very well have the division all but locked down by the time March is through.
And, while that may have been the popular preseason prediction for how the Southeast standings would have ended up this year, the twists and turns in this two-horse race to this point have been anything but predictable.
In the last week, the Lightning have seen players Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91), Nate Thompson (@NateThompson44) and Vincent Lecavalier (@VLecavalier4) join the so-called Twitterverse, making local fans very happy for the opportunity to interact directly with some of their favorites.
Initially, I must admit, this was a bit of a surprise for me as well, what with the regrettable end to now-former Bolt Dan Ellis’ run on Twitter early this season still fresh in the minds of many.
But the Lightning organization has been progressive in embracing social media in recent seasons, utilizing their own Twitter feed (@TBLightning) admirably for in-game updates, informative links, ticket specials and more. With that in mind, their encouragement of individual player accounts doesn’t exactly come from the abyss.
So far, we’ve seen Thompson solicit fan input on a nickname (we’ve officially plumped for “Nate Dogg”) and Stamkos check in from the road, while the captain appears to be easing his way in with just a single career tweet thus far. (FYI: Lecavalier’s foundation has its own handle as well – @VLF4 – that deserves your follow for all of the wonderful charity efforts they continue to make in the Tampa Bay area.)
Unofficially, Washington leads the Southeast in players on Twitter with seven, while Tampa Bay’s recent spike from zero to three ranks them second ahead of Atlanta (two), Carolina (two) and Florida (none). (Don’t see this as a standings tiebreaker any time soon, though…)
Here’s a link I dug up with a fairly extensive list of NHLers on the ol’ Twitter.
Playoffs or Not, Give the Devils Their Due, BUT…
For their remarkable 22-3-2 run, even if it were to all go south beginning with their next game, the New Jersey Devils and head coach Jacques Lemaire deserve every bit of credit being thrown their way. I still don’t see them pulling off the impossible (and they can thank what we kicked things off with today, the existence of the three-point game, for that more than anything else) but what they’ve done is beyond commendable nonetheless.
Still, just below New Jersey in the Atlantic Division standings is another remarkable success story that isn’t getting nearly as much run in the press. The New York Islanders, losers of 14 straight and 20 of 21 early on this season (and perpetual losers in the court of public opinion several times over this year as well), have had quite the turnaround of their own.
Granted, the Isles are still 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, 11 points out of a playoff spot and three points, even, behind the aforementioned Devils but a 22-14-6 record since a woeful 5-18-5 start is a major accomplishment for interim head coach Jack Capuano and his club. It should be enough for Capuano to secure his position on a full-time basis moving forward and, most importantly, in a season of many painful lows for a fan base used to so many for the better part of two decades now, to finally provide some tangible optimism as this slow and steady rebuild finally starts to bear some fruit.
As the Devils caught fire, the Islanders were beginning to smoke as well, but few cared to talk about it. Maybe it was the public enemy picture painted of the Isles after the fight-fest against Pittsburgh in mid-February that kept the press away as they really began to take off. Since that 9-3 win, New York is 8-3-4. Since the shift in attitude that preceded the Penguins game a few nights earlier, 10-3-4.
Whatever the reason for the turnaround and regardless of the public perception surrounding the organization that persists, this team is clearly headed in the right direction, albeit with some of the same old question marks still lingering around the franchise. That conversation begins and ends with an unsettled arena situation that will be put to bed, one way or another, in relatively short order, as the lease at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum expires in 2015.
But in the short term, Capuano and crew, as well as Islander fans, can all be proud of what the team has accomplished recently, and certainly when factoring in the 450+ man games the team has lost to injury and the six different goaltenders it has had to go with.
Much like the Devils, the Islanders deserve some serious credit for their turnaround.
And, much like the Devils, that the season’s efforts
won’t ultimately yield a playoff berth is secondary to the growth that the club has shown.
In each case, for the Devils and for the Islanders, if the latter part of 2010-11 is any indication of future success, a return to the playoffs looks to be an excellent bet for next season and beyond.
RIP, Rick Martin
Finally, a touching image that has made the rounds today, captured after Buffalo’s emotional win over the Ottawa Senators last night:
The 2010-11 Sabres salute a fallen Buffalo legend, pointing to Rick Martin’s #7 hanging in the rafters.
Filed in: Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
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