By Sean McCafferty aka 30ranfordfan

Over the last few weeks, one of the biggest stories has been how tight the playoff races are shaping up to be. In the Western conference in particular, there was a few days in early February where only 3 points separated 3rd place from 11th.

We’re reminded daily about how ‘close’ and ‘exciting’ the playoff races are.  Sportscasters insist that if a team can just come in 8th place, they have a real chance to win the Stanley Cup – because in today’s NHL, a league of parity, everyone is so close, and so evenly matched.

What they should be telling you: it’s all a farce. The bogus way the NHL compiles regular season stats is designed to prevent teams from pulling away from the pack. It’s designed to keep mediocre teams in the hunt for a division title, and it makes sure that all but the most inept teams are in the playoff races until the middle of March.

I suppose at some level, the NHL should actually be commended. They’ve achieved what other North American sports leagues haven’t been able to do. They’ve tricked fans into thinking their team might actually win this year (when in fact it’d be pretty easy to narrow the Champion down to 5 or 6 teams right now, and you’d likely get it right. Hint: for the most part it’s the same 5 or 6 teams you would have picked a month ago, and it’s probably the same 5 or 6 you would have picked back in September).

The notion of “Finish 8th place, and you have a chance to win the Cup” needs several ***s placed beside it. The two examples that are cited by the media over, and over, and over again are the 2006 Edmonton Oilers and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers.

I say hogwash. What the 2006 Edmonton Oilers proved is that deadline deals can work. If you take a mediocre team, rebuild a third of the defence (Tarnstrom & Spacek), add seconday scoring that you lack (Samsonov) and fix your goaltending problems (Roloson), you can suddenly become an elite team.

The 2010 Philadelphia Flyers proved that the pre-Season prognosticators were correct, and that just because your team underachieves  for three quarters of the season, it doesn’t mean you’ve thrown away your chances.

Along with the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, it also proves that any team with Chris Pronger really is a contender.

The NHL needs to correct the way it scores its games. Enough with this phantom point. The idea that some games are worth 3 points, and others only worth 2 is ridiculous. Every game should be worth an equal number of points. It’s the only way to give the standings a true reflection of how good (or bad) teams are.

(Before I go any farther, I’ll be the first to say I have no problem returning to the days of ties. I would have no issue with changing the current system to simply reward teams with 2 points for a win, and nothing for a loss, regardless of the ‘type’ of loss. I’ve just come to accept that we’re never bringing back ties, and we’re always going to have pity points. We just need to lessen their effect on the standings.)

There has been suggestions in the past, that we should make all games worth three points. Give a regulation winner 3 points, and a winner in OT or a Shoot Out  2. I don’t think it goes far enough. We need 5 point games.

How does a 5 point game work? Easy:

Regulation Win                 5 Points

Overtime Win                    4 Points

Shootout Win                    3 Points

Shootout Loss                   2 Points

Overtime Loss                   1 Point

Regular Loss                       Nothing

What would this change? Well, who makes the playoffs is the biggest thing, along with ‘how tight’ the races are.

Taking a look at the final standings from last season (2009-10) we all remember how Philadelphia had to win in a shootout, on the last day of the Regular Season over the Rangers, to get in. Flyers got the 7th seed, and the Rangers were out.

 

Under this proposed 5 point game system, that last game of the season actually would have meant nothing to either team. They would have already been locked into the 6th seed (Philly) and 7th (New York). Montreal’s miracle run through the first two rounds never should have happened. Their record (i.e. their dependency on Over Time & Shoot Out points) should have kept them outside the playoff picture.

The West’s final standings last season wouldn’t have changed in as much of a dramatic fashion. The same 8 teams still would have made the playoffs, though Calgary would have remained in the race longer. (They finished 5 points back of 8th, they’d only be 4 points back under the 5 point system).

Where the biggest shift in the West occurs, is where playoff teams are ranked compared to each other.

Instead of pretending to be challenging for top spot, Phoenix ends up barley hanging onto 4th. No, their position doesn’t change, but everyone’s perception of them does. Winning an uncanny 14 games in a shootout made them contenders for first place. If those games were weighted lower than a regulation win, they don’t even come close to the top three teams.

There have been two main arguments against changing the system. The additional stats would make the standings too confusing to follow, and it would skew the totals so much that regular seasons point totals would no longer be recognizable.

Both of them are weak, at best.

Up until the end of the 2003-04 season, we kept trade of Wins, Loses, Ties, and Overtime Losses. After the lockout those 4 columns were reduced to 3, with Wins, Loses, and Overtime Losses. The NHL would only have to add 1 column to the stat lines they used before the lockout.

Can anyone honestly say 5 columns would be hard to follow? Sounds to me like “confusing standings” is just another excuse why hockey hasn’t become popular in warm climates.

As for the argument that the standings would be skewed, and look nothing like previous year’s point totals, I agree. But so what? The current point totals are meaningless when compared to those of 1990, 1980, 1970, or older. The schedule isn’t the same length, and the 3 point games have already inflated point totals. The idea that we can compare the standings of today against seasons before 2005 is a joke anyway.

Then there’s the reason for instituting the ‘pity point’ in the first place. Way back in the 1999-00 season, the NHL adopted the rule which awards a losing team 1 point, if the loss is in Overtime. The reasoning behind it was pretty simple. Teams got to Overtime, and played for the tie. They didn’t want their hard work to result in nothing, so playing shut down defence for 5 minutes guaranteed them a point. By giving them a garmented point in the extra frame, teams would be more likely to play aggressive, trying for the extra point.

Of course the unintended consequence of this, was that teams played even tighter defence in the third period, making sure they’d get to overtime. The new system didn’t really do much to reduce the amount of ties, so the NHL eventually adopted the shoot out.

I say they looked at this from the wrong angle. Teams will always play to earn those extra points. Instead of rewarding losers for making it farther into a game, punish the winners for taking so long to do it.

If teams have to play in a situation where the win is less valuable to them, the longer it takes to achieve it, you can be sure they’ll try their hardest to end the games quicker. Tie games in the 3rd period would be some of the most exciting hockey we’d watch, and overtime would rarely be dull again.

Not only would the fans get to see a more exciting brand of hockey, but we’d have a system that’s actually equitable. A system that doesn’t reward failure. A system that would leave the bad teams behind, and actually give an accurate display of how teams are doing.