March is a great time for hockey fans. The playoffs are just around the corner and the race is on for several teams trying to secure their spots for a chance at the Stanley Cup.
In today's NHL, with 82-game schedules and points for overtime losses, it usually takes about 92 points for a team to advance to the sweet 16. It doesn't matter HOW you get the points; it matters THAT you get the points.
And there's the problem.
One team could go 46-36-0, and another could go 10-0-72 and they would both make the playoffs. Based on that fact alone, it is easy to see how flawed and unfair the system really is.
Regulation ties should not be valued nearly as much as regulation wins, but it seems too many teams are content with taking their chances in overtime, where they are guaranteed to come out of the game with at least a point. Even if they lose the game.
That's right. A reward for a loss. A fundamental contradiction to the world of sports.
The theory is that three-point games keep the standings close and make the playoff drive more meaningful for more teams. But at what cost? A watered down form of competition seems to be the result.
It is an illusion; a very unnecessary fabrication of parity for two reasons.
Firstly, it really isn't enough to just make the playoffs. The large majority of teams who win the Stanley Cup are the ones that finish very high up in their conference. Teams sneaking into the playoffs because of some overtime games generally don't pose much of a threat in the spring.
Secondly, it can be fixed without losing those great playoff races.
Tweaking the point system so that teams are awarded two points for a hockey win (regulation or overtime), one point for a shootout win, and none for a loss of any kind would bring a little reality to the NHL's standings.
Awarding teams points based on how they win rather than how they lose creates a higher standard for competition, without sacrificing anything that hockey fans love during this time of year.
However, having a three-two-one system differentiating regulation wins from overtime wins would be a little extreme. Overtime is just a few extra minutes of play to try to settle the game honestly before the circus shootout show rolls in.
Under this system, the standings would change quite a bit, but they would better represent which teams really deserve to be in the playoffs, and which don't.
As of the games ending Mar. 17, the standings look like this:
EASTERN CONFERENCE WESTERN CONFERENCE
BOS 99 DET 103
NJ 95 SJ 100
WSH 94 CAL 86
PHI 84 CHI 83
PIT 84 VAN 83
NYR 82 CLB 78
MON 81 EDM 75
CAR 79 NSH 74
FLA 78 MIN 74
BUF 76 DAL 74
TOR 71 STL 73
OTT 68 ANA 68
ATL 64 LA 68
TB 61 PHX 64
NYI 56 COL 64
Under the new system, with adjusted points based on overtime games this year, the standings would look like this.
EASTERN CONFERENCE WESTERN CONFERENCE
NJ -8 87 DET -15 88
BOS -13 86 SJ -14 86
WSH -10 84 CAL -9 77
CAR -10 71 VAN -12 71
PHI -13 71 CHI -13 71
PIT -14 70 CLB -11 69
MON -10 65 NSH -10 65
FLA -13 65 ANA -9 61
NYR -18 64 MIN -13 61
BUF -15 61 EDM -14 61
OTT -13 55 DAL -14 61
ATL -11 53 STL -14 59
TOR -18 53 PHX -8 56
NYI -11 45 LA -14 54
TB -18 43 COL -11 53
These numbers can be analyzed many different ways and benefit some teams more than others, but the fairness can not be overlooked.
Interestingly, the playoff races in the new model are even tighter than before, and the teams in those races are much more deserving to be where they are. Also, the teams at the top are much closer together as well, though they remain the league's elite and will likely continue to fair better in the playoffs year after year.
The point of all this is to end the NHLs manufactured parity and replace it with the real thing, making it more fair to the organizations, players and fans.
It is a small change that would significantly enhance the competition and reality of the NHL. Wins would be more valuable, as they should be, and teams would make the extra effort to try to win games before it gets to the shootout for maximum points, especially during the playoff drive.