The NHL has long convoluted its standings in a way that made it nearly impossible for non-hockey fans to understand what the hell was going on. There were points for overtime losses in addition to ties for a period of several years before Gary Bettman and Co. put a bullet in ties’ head following the 2005 lockout.
Now, there’s wins, losses, and overtime or shootout losses, except that not all wins are created equal because wins in shootouts don’t really count as much as regulation or overtime wins in the event of a tie in the standings, which are more common than you might think (Columbus, you’ll recall, missed the playoffs because they had two fewer wins, and three fewer in regulation or overtime, despite having the same 55 points as the Minnesota Wild).
So how, then, did the NHL decide that it could make things even more difficult to figure out? By reconfiguring the conferences so that there were 16 teams in the East and only 14 in the West and also, as a consequence, having to completely change the way in which teams are seeded into the playoffs.
Ah, you thought it was weird when the top eight clubs in each 15-team conference made the playoffs based on the number of points they accumulated but then also factored in how they accumulated them? Well, now things are a lot stupider.
Try explaining this to someone you know who isn’t into hockey (or hell, even someone who is): The top three teams from each of the league’s four divisions are guaranteed to make the playoffs, based on the number of points accumulated over the course of the season, with ties being broken first by the number of wins a team has and then by the number of wins it has in either regulation or overtime. After those three teams have been slotted into a divisional playoff setting in which they only play each other, the final two slots in the conference playoffs are taken from the best point totals (using the same tiebreaker system) from the remaining 10 teams in the Eastern Conference and eight in the West, regardless of division, but would not be slotted into their own divisional playoffs regardless of the division in which they play. After the first round of the playoffs, each team advances without being re-seeded, and so on, until the Stanley Cup Final.
We’re months out from this change being announced, and I’m still sitting here a more than a little confused by the various machinations at work.
“We tend to use common sense around here and this seems to make a lot of common sense,” John Davidson said out loud, lyingly. “When you get out the ledger sheet and you go pros and cons, I don’t think there is anything on the negative side.”
How about the fact, JD, that this makes no sense at all, period? Would have loved to see another wild card slot for the teams that do the best in a team three-legged race (my money’s on a David Desharnais/Brian Gionta combo; gotta love that low center of gravity).
This is a legitimately crazy and utterly nonsensical playoff system that is almost impossible to understand, and one that could very easily lead to lots of complaining about inequity. For instance, the third-place team in Conference III could very well be someone like Minnesota, and Minnesota could very well finish with fewer points than, say, the fourth- or even fifth-place team in the Other One. Is Minnesota in a position to be worse than four or five of San Jose, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Anaheim, Phoenix, and Edmonton? I think that’s very possible, even likely. But the Wild would still get preferential treatment in terms of seeding over whoever finishes fourth or fifth out of that group because they wouldn’t have to face one of the two divisional top seed.
Or what about the fact that it’s now easier to make the playoffs in the West than it is in the East? Ah screw it, the Eastern Conference teams get to travel less, so they can do with a little more difficulty in making the postseason in the first place. Again, utter nonsense.
But you do have to give the new plan this: It will keep things interesting, if only because you’re going to be sitting there around mid-March and, unless your team is closing in on 100 points, have no idea what the hell is actually going to need to happen for them to qualify for the playoffs.
I think, though, it’ll be most interesting in the Eastern Conference, simply because there are going to be so many good teams in it. Looking at the list of teams in the Flortheast and PatrickPlus, there are now 10 teams that finished at least tied for 15th in the league. To be fair, Toronto’s going to regress extremely hard and not come close to a playoff spot this time around, but could be balanced out by the Flyers, who almost physically can’t be worse than they were last year. I’m not sure this represents any sort of shift in the power structure overall, because what seem to be the league’s truly heavy hitters still reside primarily in the West, but the overall quality of the conferences certainly seem to have shifted.
That, though, means that more good to slightly-above-average teams are now in the East, and that there might be at least one genuinely no-good — we’re talking “Capitals-last-year” bad — team that sneaks into the playoffs out West.
It is, I suppose, the same point of concern that arose before: Division winners getting home ice regardless of how few points they had, and therefore theoretically robbing a spot from a team that actually deserves it (which happened to the 103-point Flyers two seasons ago when 94-point Florida was seeded third). Only now, it can happen twice! In each conference!
Instead of guaranteeing division winners, and only division winners, a playoff spot, but otherwise seeding them as their point total dictated, they’ve unnecessarily complicated something that was already fundamentally broken.
Ah, but that’s the way the NHL works, isn’t it? Take an easily-fixable problem and making it worse.