In each conference, does the NHL's current system consistently put the eight strongest teams in the playoffs, or is there a better way?
The Olympics' unique system for awarding standings points (three for a regulation win, two for an OT or SO win, one for an OT or SO loss) was a revelation. I decided back in February to see what the NHL's end-of-season standings would look like if the league used the Olympic scoring system. In addition, I created a third system, in which the Shootout (which I detest) was replaced by a good, old-fashioned, one-point TIE (yeah, baby!), with regulation and OT wins worth two points, and NO points awarded for OT losses. The results, as seen in the charts below, were surprising. First, let's look at the Eastern Conference (changes from the actual standings are highlighted):
As you can see, using both the Olympic (OLY) and No Shootout (NO SO) scoring systems, the top five seeds in the East remained unchanged. The alterations to seeds 6-8 are fairly remarkable, though: under both systems, Boston drops to eighth, Philadelphia improves to sixth, and Montreal falls out of the playoff picture, replaced by the New York Rangers (in the seventh seed). These changes blow the ol' can o'worms wide open:
1. Are/were the New York Rangers more deserving of a playoff seed than Montreal? Based on the number of regulation wins (NYR 34, MTL 24) - a clear measure of team strength - the answer would seem to be "Yes". The Rangers' season ended with a shootout loss. In the NO SO system, even a regulation or OT loss on the last day of the season would've tied the Blueshirts and Habs, and New York would've taken the final playoff seed based on the first tiebreaker (most wins). Still, it's hard to imagine the 09-10 Rangers humiliating the Devils the way Philly did, not to mention...
2. Could the 09-10 Bruins go the distance with the Capitals, as the Canadiens have? Tough question. Based solely on the Bruins' regular season record against the Caps (1-2-1, or 0-1-1-2, or 0-3-1), the Magic 8-Ball would say, "Hells No!" Of course, I was one of many who predicted Ovie & Co. would steamroll Les Habitants Petites, so I suppose anything's possible. Washington is not Buffalo, however, and a Savard-less Boston club would've had an extremely narrow margin of error against the Capitals.
3. Would Philly crush Buffalo the same way they did New Jersey? As Tex Jr. would say, "DUH!"
And with that, we'll move on to the Western Conference:
Obviously, the variance in the West is less noticeable using the Olympic system, and much more pronounced under the NO SO system. The difference in the NO SO system can be attributed largely to the number of shootouts for Western teams in 09-10 (203, vs. 166 for the Eastern Conference, but that's a whole different blog subject). A few observations:
1. Under the Olympic system, Chicago would've faced Los Angeles in the first round, while in the NO SO system, the 'Hawks would've faced the Red Wings. If it's possible to make a bold hypothetical prediction, I'd like to make one here: Against either the Kings or Red Wings, Chicago is out in the first round.
2. Bold hypothetical prediction the second: Against Nashville (OLY), Vancouver falls in a frustrating seven-game series.
3. In the NO SO system, Calgary ties Colorado in points, but advances by virtue of having one more win. To me, this would seem to be a repeat of last seasons' Florida-Montreal controversy: NO WAY are the Flames more deserving than the Avs of the eighth seed. In fact, if Colorado has Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk healthy, there's a good chance of Sharks burning in effigy in San Jose right about now. Not so with the dysfunctional Calgary (Seriously: Toskala?) Flames.
While it seems any scoring system will generate controversy, the Olympic model gets my vote. By awarding three points for a regulation win, this system rewards the more dominant teams...which is as it should be. For those who believe all wins are created equal, ask yourselves one question: In a playoff series between a team with 50 regulation wins and one with 50 shootout wins, which team are you going to bet on? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Take me back to On Goal Analysis.