The NHL General Managers meetings were held recently in Florida and among the topics being discussed were coaches’ challenges for offsides and video review for major penalties.
It was also rumoured that the idea of a play-in round for the NHL playoffs was being introduced as a topic and that it had some traction amongst the governors.
I, for one, would oppose the play-in round with the current schedule being 82 games. If they reduced it to 76 games and added the play-in round, I could be talked into that. My reasoning is that the NHL playoffs is a war of attrition. Adding more games to an already grueling season would put the player’s health and safety at even greater risk and, as a fan of the sport, I think the quality of the product on the ice would also suffer.
No one loves NHL playoff hockey more than yours truly, but even I can see that by the time the finalists meet, the players are already really banged up and playing at less than they were in round one. Many people say that round one is the most exciting of the all the rounds. That isn’t just because there are multiple games every night or that parity fills everyone who makes the playoffs and their fan bases with the belief that anything is possible. It’s also because the players haven’t yet beaten themselves to a pulp. Every round shows the scars of the previous one and the play, like it or not, does suffer a bit.
The idea of taking three home dates from every franchise would not likely fly despite the possibility of additional playoff gates in a play-in round. Some teams would simply lose and overall hockey revenue, which both sides take an equal stake in, would be potentially jeopardized.
The reason for a play-in round seems fairly obvious. More money with extra home gates and games in early April would potentially matter more to teams that might otherwise be playing out the stretch. Makes sense.
I have another idea that might achieve both ends without the extra grind of a play-in round.
I would propose that the competition committee consider the idea of adopting the International Scoring System that is used at the Olympics, World Championships and World Junior Hockey Championships. Even watching Canada play in the recent World Cup of Soccer got me thinking the international bodies might be onto something.
Right now, the stat of regulation and overtime wins (ROW) is already tracked for the purposes of tie breaking at the end of the regular season. If you follow on the SCORE app, as I do, and wonder why your team is tied with another with identical records and, for some reason, the other team is ahead, check the ROW column. The answer probably lies there.
The league is already trying to incent teams to avoid the overtime and shootouts. Let’s take it a step further. Let’s have RW and OTSW stats. What’s another column in a league literally drowning in stats?
International events score games as follows:
1) Regulation win – 3 pts
2) OT or Shootout Win – 2 pts
3) OT or Shootout Loss – 1 pt
4) Regulation loss – 0 pts
The Atlantic Division currently sits like this:
GP W L OTL PTS ROW
Boston Bruins 36 28 4 4 60 26
Toronto Maple Leafs 37 23 8 6 52 23
Tampa Bay Lightning 35 23 11 1 47 22
Detroit Red Wings 35 16 12 7 39 15
Buffalo Sabres 35 18 15 2 38 17
Ottawa Senators 37 17 17 3 37 16
Florida Panthers 37 16 18 4 36 15
Montreal Canadiens 37 15 19 3 33 11
My proposed idea would have it looking like this
GP W L OTSL PTS RW OTSW
Boston Bruins 36 28 4 4 83 23 5
Toronto Maple Leafs 37 23 8 6 72 20 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 35 23 11 1 64 17 6
Buffalo Sabres 35 18 15 2 53 15 3
Florida Panthers 37 16 18 4 53 16 1
Detroit Red Wings 35 16 12 7 52 13 3
Ottawa Senators 37 17 17 3 50 13 4
Montreal Canadiens 37 15 19 3 34 8 7
Obviously, this format doesn’t favour the Senators in the short run. It rewards the Florida Panthers more than anyone as they have the fewest of their wins in OT or the shootout. If they had identical records to the Buffalo Sabres, they would be ahead of them under this format.
I am not going to do this example for every division (you are welcome to do so). However, I would encourage the competition committee to seriously consider this for a few reasons. They would be player safety, fans and the almighty dollar.
If their goal is to have more teams within striking distance down the stretch, this allows for that without adding more games to the schedule. This puts the product, aka the players, at no additional risk.
How? Well, I am sure you have all noticed that goalies are getting pulled for the extra attacker earlier in games depending on the score. Analytics have surely played their role in this. Teams down by two are pulling the goalies with as many as five minutes left. Even moreso, if they happen to draw a penalty to allow for a six on four advantage rather than six on five.
What you don’t see are teams pulling the goalies when the game is tied. Imagine if you provided coaches the opportunity to get three points for a win if they were looking to make up ground?
The general rule is that if you are double digits out of a playoff spot by the All-Star break that you aren’t making the playoffs. A change like this would challenge that theory. We have all seen that the Senators are now .500 on the season and 6-3-1 in their last 10. As it stands, they are still seven points out of a wildcard playoff spot with the Pittsburgh Penguins holding a game in hand. Three-point games are still making it really tough to make up ground and this is particularly true if you have multiple teams between your team and a playoff spot. Why not try to create another type of three-point game?
Why not provide the opportunity to weigh the odds of trying to steal points in games and avoid overtime and shootouts altogether?
Here are some interesting statistics about the use of the empty net and their outcomes for the same teams.
Playing AGAINST the empty net – Trying to preserve the lead
OCCURRENCES GF GA SUCCESS RATE %
Boston Bruins 21 9 3 29
Toronto Maple Leafs 16 7 1 38
Tampa Bay Lightning 13 6 0 46
Detroit Red Wings 19 9 5 21
Buffalo Sabres 18 12 4 44
Ottawa Senators 12 6 1 42
Florida Panthers 15 8 3 33
Montreal Canadiens 12 3 2 8
*Success Rate = (GF-GA)/Occurrences
Predictably, every team has a positive %. One would hope so, as a negative % would mean a team got scored on more often with a goalie than they were able to register empty net goals. Of course, if I were coaching against a team with that track record of surrendering goals while defending against an empty net, that might be useful information in determining if I wanted to try to steal three points while risking potentially getting none.
With the exception of the outliers, Boston and Montreal, the success rate really doesn’t resemble the standings.
Playing WITH the empty net – Trying to tie the game
OCCURRENCES GF GA SUCCESS RATE %
Boston Bruins 12 3 1 17
Toronto Maple Leafs 9 2 5 -33
Tampa Bay Lightning 19 5 8 -16
Detroit Red Wings 10 2 4 -20
Buffalo Sabres 14 2 7 -36
Ottawa Senators 20 3 10 -35
Florida Panthers 18 2 10 -44
Montreal Canadiens 20 3 11 -40
*Success Rate = (GF-GA)/Occurrences
As you would expect, every team with the exception of the Boston Bruins, has a negative %. I guess that explains part of the season they are having. They are an outlier in this case and the rest of the division is hardly reflective of the standings.
What neither set of data indicates is whether goals against were scored to tie the game as it is possible a goal was scored when leading by more than one goal. We also don’t know when defending the lead or if goals for were scored to tie the game while trailing. Conversely, it is possible the team was trailing by more than one goal when they pulled their goalie.
From the Senators perspective, they are tied for third in the league for the most times having pulled the goalie and also for goals surrendered. This suggests that they are trailing in too many games and their games are close. In only one instance did they surrender two goals into an empty net in the same game. However, with only 17 regulation losses, it also means they got points out of three games they might not have otherwise. If these % were played properly, when trying to selectively win in regulation to steal an extra point or if a team with a double-digit deficit to overcome, a three-point win allows for that.
This should keep the fans more invested in their teams and their outcomes which should lead to more tickets being sold for games that might otherwise not matter.
Up until now, I have only talked about pulling the goalie and how that could impact the games. Another reason to make this change is to affect how the last ten minutes are played.
I am sure we have all noticed how games are played, in particular by road teams, when they sense a point is within sight in the second half of the third period. Teams might approach games differently if you dangled another potential point in front of them. This could be particularly true if the team they were playing against were the team they were trying to overtake.
Teams that were desperate to make up points might abandon the idea of playing it safe and getting the first point and trying to win the second point in OT or the shootout. They might play as though they are trailing and play on the toes of their blades trying to avoid the idea of pulling a goalie in a tie game.
Obviously, there are potential risks to aggressive strategies. Teams trying to make up ground could risk getting nothing in any given game and how does that serve their purposes?
The answer lies in the historical stats. Hamburglar runs and St. Louis Blues 2019 resurrections happen about as often as the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. Who cares if you miss the playoffs by more points than you might otherwise have? You were going to miss them regardless. If you keep doing what has always been done, the results will almost never change.
Of course, teams in Connor Bedard type lottery circumstances would not likely avail themselves of the option to win more points and reduce their odds at a chance at a generational player. The league would have to monitor to ensure that nets weren’t pulled in tie games when the goal might have been to lose or aggressively tank. I am not trying to create another Long-Term Injury Reserve rule to be used to remain cap compliant by burying healthy players’ contracts.
The common question people like to ask is “Why would we do this?” Hopefully, this article provides some rationale. I think it’s incumbent upon the competition committee to ask “Why wouldn’t we do this?”
The NHLPA should be in favour of this. The outcome would be more goals and their members could benefit from that at arbitration or free agent time when using comparables. Perhaps some could capitalize on performance bonus clauses as well. They could also do this at no additional risk to injury. This covers player safety and the almighty dollar.
The league and owners should want this if they want to create even further competitive balance and prolong fan interest as long as possible thereby selling more tickets to games that otherwise wouldn’t matter. This also addresses the almighty dollar and fans motives.
Fans should want this as it might give them a better product to watch and reason to stay engaged in their teams.
Did I miss anyone?
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey