Link – The shootout is bad. And the NHL should feel bad so many games end with one 

This is a really damning quote by Boucher.

““I never watch shootouts,” Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher said, after his team beat the Maple Leafs in a shootout. “I never have. Two reasons: One, I hate it. I think it’s a team game, and it should be decided by team play. But I understand that the game has got to end. The other thing, two, is I got into a habit of not looking. It makes no difference if I look or not so I let the guys do their thing. I used to get involved and talk to the guys, ‘Eh you could do this and that.’ Now I stay out of it.”

Boucher has decided he – the coach – has no impact on how his team finishes these games. And he’s not alone around the league.”

He’s not wrong either, and as the rest of the column shows, the number of games being decided by a shootout is back up to about 10% of the games. With the way the NHL distributes points, clearly this gimmick is determining who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.

That’s not great, because it’s really not fair, but also because we are getting very close to the point where teams are going to play regulation into an attempt to tie, and then take your chances in the 3 on 3 OT, or a shootout.

When soccer teams do that, we Americans complain about their “boring” sport. Maybe we shouldn’t reward that in hockey before we reach that point.

What to Expect From the Islanders in 2015-2016

Islanders BannerHonestly, I have no idea what to expect from this team, and not because I don’t know that they’ll be a good team. I just don’t know where they’ll finish.

Last year, the Islanders came into the season with a bunch of new faces. Over the Summer, they brought in a couple of free agents, and then made the September deals for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk that completely remade the defense. The team then went out and piled up over 100 points and a playoff appearance that ended a bit sooner than many of us had hoped, in the first round against the Caps.

This year, the Islanders made precious few changes to the roster, obviously expecting that a return to health of some key players, and improvement from a bunch of core, young, players would leave them even better than last season. I have no doubt that will happen, but can we really expect them to repeat, or improve, on last season’s results? I’m not so sure.

The reality is, the Metro Division boasts 5 of the top 10 teams in the entire NHL, arguably. The Penguins, Rangers, Blue Jackets, Caps and Islanders are predicted to finish in some order in the top 5 spots in the division, and take 5 of the 8 Eastern Conference playoff spots. The Islanders could, quite frankly, wind up anywhere in that mix. They could be on top, they could be the 5th team and have a first round date with a team like Tampa Bay.

Heck, if the team suffers a few key injuries, we could even see them lose out on a playoff spot altogether, while still being a very, very good team. Think about it, the Flyers, if they can keep Mason healthy, could be better, and that will close the gap between 5 and 6. Also, in order for the Metro to get 5 playoff teams, the Atlantic will only have 3. We can assume Montreal and Tampa will be 1-2 over there, but 3rd will be competitive, with a quality Ottawa team along with perennial playoff team Detroit and an up and coming Panther team all involved. For the Metro to have 5 teams qualify, two of those last three won’t make it.

So, while the Isles should be an improved team this season, there are a whole lot of other teams that also improved themselves coming into the season. That makes the whole thing a gamble, but I think there are some keys that will decide the Isles fate:

  1. Division record. – Simply put, with the top 5 of the Metro as talented as it is, the record against each other will determine the order of finish. Win those games, and they’ll be fine. Struggle against those teams, and it could get dicey.
  2. Home Ice Advantage? – The Islanders move to Brooklyn this season, into a new arena. Will the atmosphere from the last season in the old barn, follow the team? Will it turn home games into an advantage with a raucous crowd, or will it be a little too quiet, a little too “hipster”?
  3. Health and Greiss – I have already mentioned how much key injuries could derail a season. It appears the Isles will head into the season with Jaro Halak missing a couple of games. Last season, the Isles did not get very good play in goal when Halak was sitting. Will Thomas Greiss improve on that? How many points will that be worth compared to last season? We’ll find out early, as the team opens with a home and home against the defending champs, without Halak. A full season from Grabovski and Okposo will also help a lot.
  4. Improvements – The Isles will be counting on consistent efforts and improvements from their core group of young players. Can Strome, Nelson, Lee, Pulock, Mayfield, etc. provide that? Will Petrov eventually be in Brooklyn when there are injuries, and can he continue to impress? If they don’t, I don’t think they can keep up in this hyper-competitive group. Will the special teams actually be half way consistent? They have to be better than they were last season if they expect to go further than they did last season. The future is now for this club, time to keep moving forward.

Will they do it? Again, I don’t really know. My gut says to expect this to be a year where the team improves slightly, but takes a step back in results. But I would not be surprised by anything at this point. The team is talented enough to win the division, and inconsistent enough to not make the playoffs. It all comes down to how well they can execute. My best guess is that they will fall somewhere in the middle, finishing 3rd in the division and hopefully winning a playoff series, but that will also be tough. Whether they win or not may just come down to who they play and how well they match up.

Either way, it’s hockey season. Let’s get it on!

Annual Look at the Playoff Race Without the Loser Point

nhl shootout photo

Photo by slidingsideways

Every year, as the NHL winds down the regular season and the races for playoff seeding come to a close, I like to take a look at how much the “loser point” reeks havoc with the standings. Usually I do it before the final week of the season, but traveling out of the country for work has left me without access to games, or decent wifi, so this is it.

To keep it simple, I take a look at what OT and the shootout have done to the standings, comparing it to what it would look like if the NHL magically went back to ties after regulation and OT.

In the East the current standings look like this:

Atlantic Division

Montreal             48-22-10 (42 ROW)

Tampa Bay          48-24-8 (46 ROW)

Boston                  41-25-13 (37 ROW)

Detroit                  41-25-13 (37 ROW)

Ottawa                  40-26-13 (34 ROW)

Florida                 36-29-15 (28 ROW)

Metropolitan Division

NY Rangers        50-21-7 (46 ROW)

Washington        44-25-11 (39 ROW)

NY Islanders       46-27-6 (39 ROW)

Pittsburgh           42-26-11 (38 ROW)

Columbus            39-35-4 (31 ROW)

Actually, adjusted for counting OTL and shootout wins as ties, the playoff spots wouldn’t change much. The big change would be Tampa being clearly ahead of Montreal, Florida and Columbus would have been out of the playoff picture much earlier, and Ottawa would not be still be alive. So you could make the argument that the loser point is creating a playoff race that wouldn’t be there in the East. You could also argue that the extra points are artificially inflating the point totals of teams that don’t deserve to make the playoffs too.

In the West, however, where there is truly a race ridiculous race for playoff spots, the shootout rules are clearly having an impact.

Central Division

St. Louis            49-23-7 (40 ROW)

Nashville           47-22-10 (41 ROW)

Chicago              48-25-6 (39 ROW)

Minnesota        44-26-8 (40 ROW)

Winnipeg         40-26-12 (33 ROW)

Dallas                38-31-10 (34 ROW)

Colorado          36-31-12 (27 ROW)

Pacific Division

Anaheim         50-23-7 (42 ROW)

Vancouver      45-29-5 (40 ROW)

Calgary            43-29-7 (39 ROW)

Los Angeles    39-25-14 (37 ROW)

San Jose          39-31-9 (35 ROW)

The Central is being decided by shootout wins. Nashville has the most ROW, but find themselves second to St. Louis, and with Chicago right on their heels mostly due to those teams having 9 SO wins. At the edge of the playoffs, Winnipeg is clearly benefiting from both their 7 SO wins, and their 12 SO/OT losses. Their 33 ROW should have them out of the running (in fact, it’s one less than Dallas has and two less than San Jose, yet Dallas sits 6 points behind the Jets and the Sharks are 5.), but those extra points have them right there. Ironically, they are battling Los Angeles for the final wildcard spot, a team who’s real record is exactly .500. They’ve won 39 games and lost 39. But, they managed to get 14 of those losses to OT, so they sit with 92 points. Colorado is the team that should have been out of the playoff picture much earlier.

Oddly enough though, as of right now, the shootout rules appear to be a non-factor. The top 8 teams in ROW in each conference are, in fact, in the top 8 positions. The exact positioning is being altered slightly, but no one is missing the playoffs, as of right now. However, Ottawa and Winnipeg are still alive, so that could very well change.

How the Skills Competition is Shaping the NHL Wildcard Races

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: Continue reading