Point Systems and Playoff Races
Just before the GM’s meetings, Ken Holland talked to Eric Duhatschek about the nonsensical way that the NHL determines the standings:
“I was a big believer that we should go to the three-point game three or four years ago,” the Wings GM said. “I’m not a fan any more. What do you want? More separation? Less races?
…“I like it the way it is. If you look at the West, Vancouver, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, you’ve got four teams at the top, all within about six points. You’ve got about five teams at the eight-hole, between seventh and 11th, within four or five points. What more do you want? It’s stretch run time. We’re all rounding the bend and it’s a horse race. I think the races are incredible. So I’m not a fan. I was a fan. I’m not a fan any more.”
Maybe there is a good argument to have some games worth two points and others three, but I still haven’t heard one. This one certainly does not fly because it presents a false choice. There are very tight races because 8 of 15 teams make the playoffs in each conference. No matter how you compute the results, it is very likely that the teams ranked from 7th to 12th will be closely clustered. A big gap between the 8th and 9th teams is always unlikely. In other words, the current system is not necessary to assure exciting playoff races.
The six playoff wannabes in the West with their current point totals and a result based on a 3-2-1 format listed in brackets:
San Jose – 88 (117)
Dallas – 87 (117)
Phoenix – 87 (115)
Los Angeles 86 (114)
Colorado – 86 (110)
Calgary – 85 (115)
Even if ties at the end of regulation end as ties, we’d still get a very close race:
San Jose – 78
Dallas – 76
Phoenix – 78
Los Angeles 77
Colorado – 70
Calgary – 80
Colorado hangs into the race a little longer because of their 16-6 record in overtime and the shootout but Calgary would be right in the thick of it if they were not punished so much by their 5-15 record in games that involve an extra point.
Why does the league like this system so much? It beats me.
Postscript: How about this for an irony: A sensible points system would not diminish the playoff races at all, but the Divisional realignment favoured by the league (but not the NHLPA) would make the playoff races less exciting. In some Divisions the playoff race could be over at Christmas.