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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did the Best Teams Get In? - by Big Tex

THE purpose of awarding Standings Points (two for a win, one for an overtime or shootout loss) is to easily rank teams 1-15 in each conference. As we all know, the teams ranked 1-8 qualify for the postseason. Often, when the point differential between the 8 and 9 seeds is very small (or seeding must be settled by a tiebreaker, as was the case of Florida and Montreal in 08-09) , debate ensues over which team is more deserving of the final playoff seed. Since the end of the 08-09 season, I've been ruminating on the NHL's standings point system with one question in mind:

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.


Lola said...

Thanks so much for cranking through this comparison. I'd had something of the sort bouncing around in my head, but never got around to actually plugging in the numbers.

superstar said...

what exactly was the point of this post? (predicting playoff series that never happened?) and no you didnt INVENT the third system, its the NHL's old one.

The Colonel said...

Tex - Loved your post! Way to not 'mail it in.'

Seriously, did like yor post, but you have re-proven my point. The standings system used is irrelevant. It will always be what it will be and have five-to-eight changes between the two conferences from year to year.

What I like is what was proposed at the GM meeting this past spring - let the number one tie breaker after points be 'Regulation Wins' which rewards the team that puts out the most over 60 minutes rule.

Good analysis, though...

Anonymous said...

How about we use the old system. Take the top 16 teams (points) period. Doesn't matter which conference. NOW you have the best 16 teams. Then there is a possibility you could have a Detroit vs Chicago final. Or how about Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia, San Jose vs L.A., Rangers vs Buffalo. How exciting would that be???

Anonymous said...

I hate to be "that guy," but if you're going to publish numbers like this for everyone to see, you need to make sure that all your info is correct. I can't speak to the olympic standings, but your no shootout standings are way off. The wins and losses don't even add up to the same number. There are lots of sites out there that are dedicated to this sort of thing, honest. Just google it.

Big Tex said...

Believe it or not, the No Shootout standings are correct. When I produced that table, it looked odd to me, so I double-checked it. The reason those numbers "don't add up" is because ALL games which went to a shootout were counted as ties. Look at Boston, for example:

In the actual NHL standings, the Bruins compiled a record of 39 regulation, OT and SO wins, 30 regulation losses, and 13 OT and SO losses. Boston played 27 games which went to extra time. Thus, the Olympic standings show Boston with 14 OT or SO wins and 13 OT or SO losses.

Of those 27 games, 19 ended with a shootout (Boston's SO record: 10-9). Under the No Shootout system, Boston would then have 19 Ties. In the 8 games decided in OT, Boston went 4-4. Adding 4 to both the Bruins' 25 regulation wins and 30 regulation losses gives them a record of 29 (regulation and OT) wins, 34 (reg. and OT) losses, and 19 ties.

I hope this helps clear up the confusion. All the above aside, there's always the possibility of human error (I only have so many fingers and toes to count on). If you find any actual errors in my math, let me know and I'll be happy to correct them.

Thanks for reading!

Big Tex said...

Hey, I REALLY like the idea of taking the top 16 teams, period. Interesting...

Zeke said...

Top 16 teams?
I don't think many teams would be happy with a north east team (Buffalo, Boston, Montreal, etc.) facing a team in California in the first round.
Although I could see it if they went to the 2-3-2 home game format which they would have to do with cross-continental travel.

Anonymous said...

They all have it wrong. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. Why would a team get a point for losing? I don't care how close you played the game, you lost! They should still include OTL in the standings, BUT there should be no such thing as playoff points. Playoffs should be determined by wins and the OTL should serve as a tie breaker if need be, nothing more. In the current system, a team which never won a game but lost in OT or shoot out in half of its games (41 points) can make the playoffs over a team that won 20 games. When it comes to the playoffs, the team with more wins should get in, not the team with a couple less losses but a few more "almost wins."