by Mike Chen on 11/11/08 at 01:00 PM ET
Just like every morning, I took a quick look at the standings to get a snapshot of where everything was at. Nothing terribly unusual except for some reason this morning, the OTL column just stuck out more than it really should have.
It just bugged me, and there’s no reason for it. Overtime losses have been part of the NHL’s fuzzy math for years now, but I think I’m just getting my annual “Getting a point for losing is stupid!” kick.
See, I don’t really mind the shootout that much. It’s entertaining to watch and the casual fans are into it. What really bugs me is giving the shootout as much emphasis as a game-winning goal in the dying seconds of the third period. What bugs me even more is giving the whole “Honorable Mention” point by being tied at the end of regulation. These are freakin’ professional athletes, not a bunch of t-ballers that get a trophy and a juice box regardless of the outcome.
And yet, upon further examination, while the principle of getting a point for losing in the shootout or OT is indeed bass-ackwards and stupid, the execution of it, I think, makes things much more interesting than they’d be otherwise. For better or worse, anyway.
Let’s take a quick look at the middle of the Western Conference pack. One of my constant suggestions is to go to a 2-1-0 point system: two points for win in regulation or OT, one point for a shootout win, and zero points for any type of loss. With that in mind, things go from this:
5. Minnesota 17
6. Chicago 17
7. Edmonton 17
8. Calgary 17
9. Columbus 16
10. Phoenix 14
11. Nashville 13
12. Los Angeles 12
13. Colorado 12
14. Dallas 12
15. St. Louis 11
5. Calgary 16
6. Edmonton 16
7. Minnesota 15
8. Phoenix 14
9. Chicago 13
10. Columbus 13
11. Colorado 11
12. Nashville 10
13. Los Angeles 10
14. Dallas 10
15. St. Louis 8
Going by my 2-1-0 system, you can immediately see that the logjam at the middle of the standings bell curve clears up. There’s a slightly more even distribution, something that would inevitably separate out even further as the year goes by. Going by this math, I’m guessing that some teams would have slid out of contention by January instead of the “Wow, everyone’s still in it” standings that we currently get come the new year.
People love crazy and unpredictable races for the playoff spot. By adding in that extra little bonus point, it gives 75% of the teams a chance to make the playoffs when ultimately only 50% of them go. Close races generate local buzz which generate ticket sales which generate revenue.
So, is this solely a business decision? While my inner cynic says yes, part of me actually says no.
As fans, we know when our team’s given up for the season. We know when coaches are letting the prospects eat up ice time and we know when the impending free agents are just going through the motions. It happens when players feel they have no shot, no purpose to a playing a regular season game.
(Of course, one could argue that grown men making an average of more than $1 million to play a game for a living should be motivation enough for them to go balls out all shift, every shift, every game, every season. But that just doesn’t happen.)
By keeping team in it as far as possible, the level of play and passion gets elevated. We see some of the best hockey of the year from that team that’s scratching and clawing to gain ground on that team holding on to the 8th playoff spot. And when the proverbial four-point game turns into a one-point swing, those types of races stay tight longer and longer.
Is the standings system stupid? Yes, definitely, 100% so. Does it produce better hockey down the stretch? I think so. With more teams keeping the playoffs in reach – and holding onto the hope that once they’re in, anything can happen – the haves and have-nots become muddier and the whole thing turns into a battle royale with winner take all.
I guess I’ve reached a sort of piece with the idiotic computations of the NHL standings. I usually hate saying that the ends justify the means, but when we see the intensity of stretch hockey from the 5th to 11th place teams come March, I’m willing to accept it.
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