"Who the hell are the Sharks facing in the playoffs?"
Thanks to the NHL's relentless pursuit of fan accessibility, there are not 2, not 3, but 4 GODDAMN COLUMNS in the NHL Standings - Wins, Losses, Overtime Losses, and the all-new, enigmatically named ROW (really overwrought?).
A single non-Shark game had 4 possible results that determined San Jose's first round opponent this year. In past years it's taken entire flowcharts to figure this shit out.
So why go through all of this? Why confuse your players, reporters, and fans? What if I could show you how to make the NHL standings so intuitive that any fan, of any age, could easily track who is on top of the league? I'll show you in just 3 simple words:
Just. Do. Wins.
That's it. Just do wins. No shootout losses. No regulation + OT wins. No 3 point games - hell, no point system whatsoever.
Just do wins.
2 columns - Wins and Losses. Won the most games in the league? You're #1. Won the fewest? You're last. It's just that simple.
"Heresy!", you cry. "The standings will be completely out of whack!", "Deserving teams will miss the playoffs!", "Shootouts are an abomination and too much fun as it is. I want the thrilling, 1-on-1 finish to my games to be a mere footnote on the outcome of the game, not to actually mean something!"
I'll address each of those objections, but first, here are the details of my proposal:
- Games are played exactly as is. 60 minutes of regulation, 5 minutes of overtime, followed by 3 rounds of shootout. Maybe bump OT up to 10 minutes of 4-on-4, but I think that's a good idea regardless.
- Eliminate the SOL, ROW, and PTS standings. Just keep track of Wins and Losses. Shootout wins count the same as regulation wins count the same as OT wins. SO Loss? SOL. You lost.
- This clearly will create quite a few tiebreaking situations so, *gasp*, lets crib most of this from the NBA:
b. After that, seeds 5-8 are based on # of wins.
c. 1st tiebreaker: Head-to-head record
d. 2nd tiebreaker: if in same division, division record; otherwise:
e. 3rd tiebreaker: conference record
Clear? Good. Now, those objections:
The standings will be out of whack.
Nope. Good teams win games, shitty teams lose them, and it shouldn't really matter if they win or lose in the shootout.
Let's look at the evidence. The shootout has been in existence for 6 full seasons now. I compared each teams' ranking using the points system vs. the win/loss system, and measured how much each team moved up or down with this new system. What happened?
The average team ranking changed by 0.78. On average, teams moved up or down their conference ranking by less than one degree. 5 seeds became 4 seeds. 12 seeds became 13 seeds. In other words, not that much changed. Good teams win, bad teams lose.
Deserving teams will miss the playoffs.
I guess that depends on how you define "deserving", but that argument doesn't hold up either. Ready for it?
Using the win/loss system, over the last 6 seasons there would be a total difference of 5 playoff teams. That is, of the 96 playoff teams since 05/06, 91 of them still would have qualified for the playoffs, and this situation hasn't arisen since the 07/08 season.
Furthermore, you're going to have a hard time convincing me that those ousted 5 teams were deserving of a playoff spot. Let's take a look at the most recent example, the 07/08 Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes.
Carolina finished the season 43-33-6, good for 92 points and just 2 points off their division winner, Washington. Boston posted a 41-29-12 record, good for 94 points. If you'll recall, the East was logjammin' that year, with 5 teams between 92 and 95 points, and 6 teams between 41 and 43 wins. A crowded field for sure, with one team destined to be on outside of the playoff picture.
Which team just made it to the dance? The Boston Bruins, with their staggering 12 overtime losses. Carolina was squeezed out, despite having won 2 more games, and having won the exact same number of games as the #2 seed, Washington! You're telling me this is a fair system? Where Washington and Carolina skate off the ice with jubilation the same number of times, but one gets a 2 seed and the other hits the golf course early?
The points system does NOT reward deserving teams - it rewards teams for losing in overtime, and punishes teams for winning at all costs.
Screw you, you joyless punk. That should be all I need here, but let's continue anyways.
Shooutouts might be reviled by players, coaches, and purists, but they're the adored by the NHL's most important constituents - the fans, and particularly casual fans. Look, shootouts are captivating, thrilling, heartbreaking, and they pass The Sports Guy's remote control test (see #7 and ignore that ball kicking crap) - you will never change the channel when a shootout is on, and neither will anyone else.
This is no shocker, but the NHL is terrible at one of it's primary functions - marketing professional men's ice hockey to fans. Why is the NHL relegated to fucking Versus? Why do I need 4 columns to track the standings? Why is every NBC Sunday game some permutation of Philly, Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington? Because the league office is stupid, that's why. Their one great idea over the years has been the shootout - so let's capitalize on that and make it really fucking count!
Let's make shootouts more exciting! Let's put more on the line! When I see Antti Niemi lining up against Corey Perry in the shootout, I'm freaking out, but I'm also thinking "we've already bagged a point" or "we've already given away a point". What I should be thinking is "holy $@#! we need to stop Perry right now or we walk away from this game with nothing." When Patrick Marleau has a chance to end the game on the 3rd and final round of the shootout, I should be thinking "He's gonna make this shot and we're going to take home another win!"
A simple call for reason.
All I want is some reason and simplicity. If we can make the NHL more accessible to fans and more exciting for all, why wouldn't we? Because regulation wins are somehow better than shootout wins? Bunk. Let's make standings that make sense. Just do wins.