Per the theme of the posts this week, the descent into a complete fantasy land where the NHL does things that actually make sense furthers. And with that in mind, it’s time to tackle one of the stupider core aspects of a stupid league- the standings.
This publication’s thoughts on the current overtime format are well-documented. There’s no reason to go over the nuts-and-bolts hockey reasons for it being a clown show that should not have any effect on standings points, just as the league and its board of governors have conceded with regard to the shootout, making regulation and OT wins the tiebreaker in the standings in the event of a tie in points. Adding to the mix the infamous “loser point” for just getting a game past 60 minutes, the NHL standings are a complete goat fuck wire to wire, excepting obvious outliers such as the Caps and Avs last year, where regardless of where the points come from (or don’t) it’s easy to tell what a team is or isn’t.
But the problem lies with hockey not even remaining on its message for 6 of the 8 months that games are being played. The league, and many of its “Please Like My Sport” zealot fans maintain that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are as good as it gets in professional sports, and that the Cup itself is literally the Holy Grail, with nothing else in the sport mattering- only hoisting 37 pounds of silver in June. Well what do those playoffs entail? Regulation games wherein refs are reluctant to call much, and then unlimited overtime where the whistles have long since passed through their small intestines. In other words, a whole shitload of 5 on 5 hockey decides what the sport itself has defined as the most important achievement and showcase for itself. And yet so much of the regular season is defined by back alley dice games. The reasons for having 3v3 and the shootout are obvious- inflated offense, easy highlights for a network that won’t broadcast them anyway, and keeping inherently conservative coaches from stretching late January games interminably. But it’s created a watered down product and made the standings an incomprehensible blob.
It has been the policy of this outlet for a couple years now to simply ignore anything that happens after 60 minutes during the regular season when trying to glean any meaning from the standings. Sites like this one can be incredibly useful when determining just how good a team is at the type of hockey that is widely accepted as the only kind that actually matters.
In looking at the standings as the outcomes become more granular (and as they are sortable on the website), it’s fairly easy to parse out which teams fed off the circus act post-regulation, and how that generally translated to playoff success. Not to mention, much like everything else about hockey, it is completely fucking inscrutable from the outside, and even self-professed die hards tend to fuck up how the standings work because of how nonsensical they are. So what’s the solution?
It seems that there are three options that can be picked from here. The first is going to the Three Point Regulation Win, which will at least serve the purpose of properly weighing hockey’s most important format of play, 5 on 5. Basically, it give teams who won in 60 minutes 3 standings points, 2 for an OT/SO win, 1 for an OT/SO loss, and 0 for a regulation loss. It’s the system that soccer uses, and while it is the most popular sport in the world and is gaining popularity here, the instant that the elusive potential casual fan (particularly of the FOOTBALL variety) hears that it’s the system that DOSE FROOTY EUROS USE, it will likely turn a lot of fans off. Not to mention the math becomes even more intensive, which again will likely be a problem for the aforementioned demographic.
The next option would be to swing in the exact opposite direction, as the league has told everyone that regular season games need to have a CLEAR WINNER since the Great Lockout Of Aught Five, and that would be go to to a straight Win/Loss record. The league seems absolutely married to both 3 on 3 and the shootout as a means of determining said clear winner, and tt’s what the other three big American team sports leagues use, and that’s the standard of exposure and revenue that the NHL is seeking. It may see some teams get the business end of some bad luck and end up missing the playoffs as a result, but it would more than likely serve the purpose of keeping the front offices of mediocre teams from deluding themselves, and create a far more active trade market during the season. Plus, it would be easily digestible for the CASUAL HOCKEY FAN, who is as common in the wild as the Moderate Republican.
But, since we are living in the fantasy world of being able to do whatever I want to the league for the purposes of this piece, it’s time to hear some wildly retrograde opinions. The shootout? Gone. Three on three? Kiss my ass. The loser point? Get the fuck out of here. That’s right, it’s time to head back to the meat era of Wins, Losses, and Ties. Five minutes of four on four OT, no lollipop just for making it past 60 minutes. Two points for a win either in 60 or 65 minutes, 1 for a tie, and nothing for any kind of loss. It’s simple, classic, and elegant. Four on four actually happens during gameplay, so it’s not complete carnival, and things do open up. Without the point already in their back pocket, it will still force coaches to press when they need the full two points. It will also create clear strata in the standings come the trade deadline. And as far as the casual fan goes- under my commissionership, the league is not going to resort to a Three Card Monte table outside a bodega to hook in passers-by. There will be actual personalities and substantive on-ice product to sell it. Not to mention that the money spending demographic of age 30+ with disposable income will remember this style of standings from their video game playing childhoods. It’s a win-win-win all around, instead of a regulation win, OT win, or a shootout win.