I wrote the Fans Perspective For An Improved League in 2010 after like many hockey fans felt the game I had enjoyed for many years could explore some changes. The main topics I discussed included the Point System, Overtime, Divisional Realignment, Scheduling and an All Star Tournament. I sent the document to the NHL, several NHL teams and some media outlets and surprisingly I received a response back from the league office with some legal jargon about how they could not accept the document. The document was returned back to me and at the time I really didn’t understand why but I was most disappointed when I had asked if Mr. Bettman could sign one of the covers and return it and that request never happened.
In my last perspective written in 2010 the National Hockey League adopted several of the ideas including switching to a 4-division realignment, NHL All Star Tournament and to a degree improved on the emphasis of completing hockey games before the shootout. As a customer of the sport I emphasized back in 2010 that I was well aware that the NHL was in the business of entertainment and in the past eight years I think the league has made great strides in improving the game and improved the fan experience as well. However one of the key suggestions made in the 2010 perspective was to remove the NHL standings points system to a winning percentage format. This element of the existing points system not only affects playoff races negatively but also the performance on the ice to a defensive emphasis that diminishes scoring. The concepts discussed here will include the NHL Point System, Scheduling, Realignment and Playoff Format.
The existing point system remains the most significant concern that affects the traditional fan but more importantly the casual fan. If the “traditional fan” requires a calculus degree to determine which team is performing better when looking at the standings there is an issue. All the other major sport leagues utilize a winning percentage format with a simple Win (W) and Loss (L) format. Even if you are not a fan of the other major sports you can simply look at any standings and within seconds know which teams are ahead. The NHL needs to go to this direction. Simply a win is a win and a loss is a loss. Regardless how the outcome was determined via regulation, overtime or shootout the end results need to be the same. Any other point format change would not be beneficial with potential new fans to understand the league standings.
The overtime point or as many fans refer it to as the “loser point” has been implied by the NHL to make playoff races closer. Statistical evidence shows that this is actually false and that the additional point in many cases removes close playoff races. As well the present point system has essentially made the “Win” less of a factor in the NHL standings. In my previous perspective I used the 2006-07 NHL season as an example of this where four of the six division winners had less wins than other division rivals only to finish lower in the standing due to the “loser point”.
“Even if you are not a fan of the other major sports you can simply look at the standings and within seconds know which teams are ahead.”
The same can be said utilizing the recent 2014-15 Standings. In the Atlantic Division Montreal finished with a 50-22-10 record for 110 points while Tampa Bay also had 50 wins with a 50-24-8 record for 108 points. Montreal finished two points ahead of Tampa Bay by losing in two more games in overtime or shootout compared to the Lightning. Yet with both teams having 50 wins Tampa won 47 of them in regulation or overtime compared to Montreal with only 43. The league essentially is saying that two more losses after regulation are better than four more wins in regulation or overtime. The only way the ROW (Regulation Overtime Win) can be utilized as a tiebreaker properly is if the OT loser point is eliminated.
The solution for this is simply go with the Win-Loss Percentage based standing format as described above. If teams are tied with the same number of wins in the standings the following tiebreaker could be used:
With the following tiebreaker implemented the regular season games would not only emphasizing "Wins" but also the importance to win as many of those during regulation time. With today’s point format late third period game play has suffered with more defensive play as teams attempt to assure the guaranteed overtime point.
The NHL realigned to a four-division format in the 2013-14 season is a vast improvement over the six-division format previously utilized. The key benefits are the travel and the regional television broadcasts times within each teams market. However conference based scheduling should equate to conference playoff format.
With the recent addition of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and future expansion expected in 2020 with the Seattle franchise the NHL will have 32 teams. With the potential of expansion to 32 teams I have a ”suggested” division realignment but regardless of what alignment is utilized the scheduling and the playoff format are the focus of this discussion.
WESTERN CONFERENCE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The scheduling assures that all 32 teams play in all arenas at least once each season. Teams would play a total of 84 games with 42 home and 42 away games.
Each Division has 8 teams and would play:
7 teams x 2 home / 2 away (Subtotal 14 home / 14 away)
Within Conference (Non-Division)
4 teams x 2 home / 1 away (Subtotal 8 home / 4 away)
4 teams x 1 home / 2 away (Subtotal 4 home / 8 away)
16 teams x 1 home / 1 away (Subtotal 16 home / 16 away)
Grand Total: 42 home / 42 away**
Should the NHL prefer to stay to 82 games they could unbalance the above suggestion and have two less games with the conference (non-divisional opponent).
The playoffs would be conference based with the top two teams in each division making up the first four teams in the conference playoffs. These four teams would be seeded 1 through 4 based on regular season winning percentage. This format would assure the top two teams in each division home ice for the first round of the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled with the four highest remaining placed finishers in the conference, based on regular season winning percentage and regardless of division. These “wildcard” teams would be seeded 5 though 8.
The first round (Conference Quarterfinals) would then have the seeded teams play 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6 and 4 vs 5. The four series winners would then play in the Conference Semi-Finals where the four teams would be reseeded based on regular season winning percentage (not the previous Quarter Final seeding). The two winners would then play in the Conference Finals with home ice going to the team with the better regular season record. Each conference winner would then meet for the Stanley Cup with home ice going to the team with the better regular season record.
One may ask why reward the top two teams in each division as opposed to just the division winners. This format accomplishes two things: It assures that the top two teams in the conference are seeded appropriately in the first two positions and brings a divisional element in for home ice which is only guaranteed for the first round. Since conference teams are playing division opponents more then this seeding is a bit more justified.
Based on the NHL Standings as of Wednesday March 7th, 2018 and utilizing winning percentage and the tie breaker system the NHL Standings and Playoff Matchups would be as follows:
Based on the win and loss percentage and new playoff format in the Eastern Conference all teams would be in the playoffs compared to the existing playoff format. The key here is in the existing format Toronto and Boston would play in the first round being the second and third best team in the conference with the suggested format that would be avoided. The new format assures Tampa and Boston the first two playoff seeds despite being in the same division and avoids high seeded first round matchups.
In the Western Conference the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues would make the playoffs while the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks would not. The Sharks would lose out in a ROW tie breaker and both them and the Ducks would not see the luxury of the "loser point" to assist them to get in the playoffs as they do now with the present format.
A fans perspective for an improved NHL is really about simplification. Simplify to a winning percentage format with a simple win or lose game format. The emphasis on a team winning regardless if it occurs in regulation, overtime or the shootout will see the on ice game produce more natural offense. Teams have no reward to playing defensively to obtain a point in the standings since the more games that are not won in regulation could affect a team via the tiebreaker system recommended.