Edmonton has one fewer win than the Vancouver Canucks but are seven points back from them in the standings. Does this make sense to anyone?
The NHL is a constantly evolving league. They are quick to
adopt rule changes, even if they radically change the way the game is played.
Sean Avery stood in front of Martin Brodeur, made faces at him while trying to screen the play, and the league made a rule change over night.
Overtime has been slower to change but the results have been
radical. We now play 3v3 in extra time because it creates scoring chances and
finishes games before the shootout.
Oh yeah, they instituted shootouts just to kill the tie.
However, despite all those changes the NHL has been holding
onto a points system to determine seeding in the playoffs. Once upon a time the
system made some modicum of sense in sorting out where teams should stand after
wins, losses, and ties. It’s a holdover from a different time.
Keeping points around in 2015, though, is like choosing to
keep your wisdom teeth just because you were too lazy to go to the dentist… and
you’re the dentist.
The most important change to come into the NHL from the
perspective of competition was the death of the tie. There is
a winner and a loser every night. Period.
However, when this change happened it wasn’t accompanied
by any other changes to the way they determine playoff seeding or point
accumulation. The NHL did half the job then called it a day.
The NHL is set up like all the other major North American
sports leagues so that they have eliminated the tie, except all of the other
leagues use a W/L record instead of points.
The NFL doesn’t give out extra points for OT.
The MLB doesn’t give credit for extra innings.
The NBA doesn’t hand out participation ribbons for OT
The NHL is the only one that thinks it is somehow more
special to lose five minutes after other teams who do it in regulation time. This
is entirely arbitrary. There is nothing special about losing, whether it is in
regulation, OT, or the shootout.
All NHL games are played under the expressed understanding
that games are 5v5 until overtime, then go to 3v3, and if that fails, to a shootout. To believe in the points system is to believe that some game
states are lesser than others and extra pity points should be handed out for
having to accept a loss when it’s not “real” hockey.
Many NHL fans might believe this to be true, but surely that’s
a strange way for the NHL itself to operate. There is no need to apologize for
overtime or the shootout. Although, I guess there’s always room to do unlimited
5v5 as OT during regulation just as the MLB and NBA do not change the way their
game is played in OT.
But doesn’t the point system create a sense of parity that
keeps teams in the race for the playoffs longer?
I don’t believe the answer to that is “yes.”
Let’s look at the standings today in the wild card race.
In the East both wild card teams have 12 wins this season.
New Jersey has exactly as many wins but are two points back from the Islanders.
Tampa is only one win out but are four points back. Columbus is only two wins back but
have eight fewer points than the Islanders.
In the West we see a similar story. Here the last wild card
team has just 11 wins on the season. Winnipeg has the same number of wins but
are two points back. Colorado is just two wins off the pace but are already seven points back from Minnesota.
Does this feel like a system where teams feel like they’re
still in races they should very much still be in? Does this feel like a system
that rewards teams for actually winning the game?
Perhaps it is just the Canadian way to apologize for things
that don’t need apologizing for. Maybe that’s why the NHL is so quick to give
points to losers instead of rewarding teams that actually win games. I think it’s
time to put those days to rest.
The point system should be a thing of the past. Scrap the
whole thing. Don’t change it to give three points for regulation wins. Don’t tweak
it at all. Just rip it out like we do those extra caveman molars.
Losing in overtime isn’t special. Complicating a very
uncomplicated situation isn’t better. We have wins and losses every night.
There’s no reason why Team X with nine wins is seven points ahead of Team Y with eight wins. And the NHL is under no obligation to keep this silly system. All they
have to do is finish the job they started when they killed the tie.