How the Skills Competition is Shaping the NHL Wildcard Races

posted in: NHL | 2

I’m not a fan of the shootout, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. It’s not that I don’t see the entertainment value of it, sure it can be exciting. (Though many times it really isn’t) My complaint is that it’s a contrived way to end a hockey game that has very little to do with the actual game play itself. I feel the same way about going to penalty kicks in soccer as well, though I do see the validity there that as players tire, there is less likelihood of anyone ever scoring, since they aren’t taking shifts like hockey players are.

Still, the many supporters of the shootout hype the fact that it adds an entertaining conclusion to what would otherwise be a tie game, so that’s a good thing. The problem with that argument is that rewarding the winner of the shootout two points, as if they had won the game, is problematic in a league where playoff spots come down to a point here and there. Take a look at the current wildcard standings for the Eastern Conference, from Yahoo! for example. They are kind enough to include the ROW column (regulation and overtime wins), so we can clearly see the difference being made by the “extra” shootout point.

wcstandingsDetroit is currently sitting in the first wildcard spot, despite the fact that they have only the 4th most non-shootout wins. If we sorted the wildcard chase by the teams who have managed to win the most actual hockey games it would look very different:

Columbus – 33

New Jersey/Carolina -32

Detroit – 30

Toronto – 28

Ottawa – 27

Washington – 25

New York Islanders – 23

Florida – 19

Buffalo – 14

At the top, Detroit is sitting on top because they have 5 shootout wins, padding their total to 84 points, while New Jersey and Carolina do not have those shootout wins, but win outright more often. Washington and Toronto are only in the race at this point because of their extra 9 points from shootout wins each. New Jersey is a remarkable 0-11 in shootouts, which is just about killing their playoff hopes at this point. At some point you’d think the law of averages would kick in and they’d have won a few, which would put this whole wildcard picture in another light.

Those points matter. Can we unequivocally say the Jersey and Carolina are better than Washington, Toronto and Ottawa based on their larger number of hockey game wins? No, but we can never say any playoff team is unequivocally better than a team they beat out for that spot. The one thing we can say is that they won more games, except in the NHL, where they may have won fewer actual hockey games, but more individual skill competitions.

I’d rather see the NHL adopt a 3-2-1 point system. Win a game in regulation or OT, you get three points. Win a shootout, you get 2, lose in OT or SO, you get 1. That rewards teams who win actual hockey games, but allows you to avoid having to deal with ties, for the entertainment. If that point system were in place:

Detroit would have 114 points

Columbus would have 116

Toronto would have 110

Washington would have 106

New Jersey would have 112

Ottawa would have 105

Carolina would have 109

Is it perfect? No. Detroit would still be slightly ahead of two teams it has fewer R/O wins than, but it would be close, and there would be a clear reward for winning the game in OT versus a shootout, which might just mean there were fewer shootouts to begin with. The only perfect system would force every game to keep going until someone wins, but short of that, we can have ties, or a system that rewards getting to, and winning, a shootout the same as winning in regulation or OT. I’d rather give teams an incentive to win the game.

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