A new year, a new coach, a new hatred of the loser point. If the league had ties after regulation, like the old days, the Islanders right now would be tied for 9th, a mere two points behind the Bruins for the 8th and final playoff spot, with 4 games in hand. Tampa would be the other 9th place team, level on points with the Islanders, but with three more games played. All teams behind the Isles have also played more games, not only would the Islanders' destiny be in their own hands, they wouldn't even have to run the table on those games in hand.
The reality is that the loser point is severely crippling the Islanders this year. I've always hated the damn thing (and most others who are longtime fans appear to agree), but it's a real special kind of kick to the gonads that a system which is supposed to give the appearance that teams far outside the playoff bubble are a lot closer than reality, is in fact making it worse for our team. That's both in appearance and in the math. Later on in the column, I have two more (admittedly outlandish) suggestions for how to get the NHL to give up the Bettman Bonus Point. A little house keeping first....
Weekly Roundup of Opinion Polls
|Site||Updated||New Ranking||Prior Ranking||Comments|
|SportsNet||1/25/2017||16||27||[Pick each team's all time franchise player] "One of the toughest decisions on the board. The two-way play of Bryan Trottier gives him a slight nod over shooter Mike Bossy, D-man Denis Potvin, and Pat Lafontaine. John Tavares is screaming up this list like a bullet, though."|
|ESPN||1/23/2017||25||27||The Isles have played well under interim head coach Doug Weight (2-0-1), but they still have the fewest points in the conference, an indication of the uphill path to relevancy.|
|TSN||1/24/2017||21||23||Remember when the Islanders were in free-fall, just a mess that had to be on the verge of driving John Tavares out of town? It wasn't so long ago. Well, they have three regulation losses in the past 14 games. They’re still last in the Metro, but have games at hand on all the teams above them.|
|THN||1/25/2017||18||16||Hard to argue the Islanders mess was Jack Capuano’s fault, but it’s also hard to argue with the results since they let him go. They are 3-0-1 with Doug Weight behind the bench|
|Average||20||23.3||I'm gonna talk about the coaching is the new I'm not gonna talk about the goaltending.|
While nobody is ignoring the team's position in the standings, it appears a bit more credence is being allowed for the notion that the Metro is super stacked, and as such, the Isles face a tougher degree of difficulty.
LHH Power Rankings
For all games through 1/25/17.
|3||Columbus Blue Jackets||47||24||11||12||60||121.2|
|5||New York Rangers||49||27||17||5||59||114.8|
|8||San Jose Sharks||49||24||16||9||57||110.2|
|10||Toronto Maple Leafs||46||18||14||14||50||105.2|
|13||New York Islanders||46||17||17||12||46||101.8|
|14||St. Louis Blues||48||18||19||11||47||101.5|
|17||Tampa Bay Lightning||49||19||22||8||46||98.4|
|20||Los Angeles Kings||48||13||21||14||40||92.7|
|22||New Jersey Devils||49||12||20||17||41||91.7|
|25||Detroit Red Wings||48||11||20||17||39||90.1|
I wanted to lead with this, but the loser point pissed me off too much, so I'll just leave this here: Given their record in regulation (a true 50% win percentage), while considering the much more difficult quality of opponents they've had to face, the Islanders - despite all of the coaching, general management, ownership, and player issues we might have with the team - are actually playing well enough to merit a playoff spot. When you hold your own against the best four teams in your division (whom all happen to also occupy four of the top five spots in the power rankings), you are likely one of the 16 best teams in the league.
Death to the Loser Point Episode VIII: The Last Straw
Which makes the current NHL points awards system even that much more frustrating. As I said earlier, the current system is supposed to make teams look like they are closer to a playoff spot than they really are, but in the Islanders case, they are further away. They'd need to run the table on the games in hand they currently have, plus hope that all the teams around them and just ahead of them in the standings (in other words, the entire Eastern Conference from 8th place to 16th) don't play a lot of three point games. That's highly unlikely. So here are two other ideas for getting the league to stop the smoke and mirrors. And remember, the goal of this exercise is to make all games equal (or at least state which games are more important than others before the season even begins, so that teams can plan accordingly), and yet still make it possible for teams well behind in the standings to catch up, near the end of the regular season (thus satisfying the NHL's demand that people of lower ranked teams are still engaged up until the end of the year)...
March Madness, Hockey Style
Let me preface this one with a caveat: It wasn't my idea and I never considered it... Before our own GM (as of the date of this writing anyways; can't be sure of anything right now with this organization) was noted to have proposed it at an ownership or GM meeting.
So the story goes that, several years ago, and when their were 15 teams in each conference, Garth Snow recommended looking into having twin eight-team tournaments (one for each conference) to decide who the eighth seeds were. The 8th place team at the end of the regular season would play the 15th. 9th vs 14th, and so on. Single game elimination. Whoever survived the bracket (winning all three of their games) would go to the playoffs.
The pros: Well, for one, maybe we won't have so many tanking teams anymore! But that's another argument for another day. When it comes to keeping fannies in the seats, well, sure people would attend these games because a quick winning streak or a hot goalie, and viola! Your 12th place team is in the playoffs. Plus, it wouldn't really matter what points system you used in the regular season. All that would change is seeding for the mini-tournament (which in and of itself would not be considered "the playoffs").
The cons: I'm not so sure this would keep fannies in the seats for the regular season. If every team has a chance, then most of the teams near the basement don't have much to fight for over the waning weeks of the season. Being in the bottom four means no home games at all during the mini-tournament. Maybe a few more fans would be incentivized around 7th-9th, because 7th is automatic playoff birth, and maybe again around 10th-12th for getting at least a home game, but let's face it: If you're that far down the table, you're a long shot anyway. And people following the teams around or near the automatic playoff position are going to watch their team anyway because they are, well, going to the playoffs.
There's also the issue that there are 16 teams in one conference, and 15 in the other starting next year, but that'll eventually be 16 as well. So you'd have to have the bottom 9 from each conference play a tournament instead of 8. But hey, I could be wrong, so feel free to comment on this one below.
The Euro Treatment
Across the pond, european soccer associations have a regular season and a tournament play concurrently throughout the year. While they typically have knockout rounds only, what if we were able to tweak that system a bit and use it for our own purposes? It would go like this:
1) For all games during the "regular season," two points for a regulation or OT win, zero for a regulation or OT loss. If the game goes to a shootout, both teams get one point, but the shootout itself allows for a "winner" to be declared without distorting the standings. Shootout win/loss record becomes part of the standings tie breaking system, but it's not the first or second tie breaker. As such, it isn't that important, but might actually decide a position or two every once in a blue moon. [This first point is basically the first point to all of my theoretical systems, so it might look familiar to you]
2) The regular season consists of two games against every team, plus a few extra games to round out the 82 game schedule (literally just two games, I believe).
3) The regular season will be interrupted a few times for special mini tournaments.
4) One tournament will be based upon the divisions (therefore there will be a Metro tournament, an Atlantic tournament, and so on).
5) The tournaments will be double round robins, but there will be two groups of four teams (so six pool play games). The top two teams from each go to the winners bracket and the others go to a loser bracket. Each of those brackets will be single games for both semis and finals (and consolation games, too, such that every team will play their way into a final position from 1st through 8th place). That means each team will play two more games in the "knockout" rounds, for a total of eight games played per team.
6) Standings points will be awarded to each team based on the position they finish in. Your can make it a large spread or a narrow one for the regional tournaments. They provide a bit of rivalry fun yet they matter in the standings.
7) More important are the second round of tournaments, which will be held very close to the end of the season. These tournaments, rather than being regional, will be based on current standings. The eight best teams from each conference will play in one tournament (perhaps awarding a Presidents Trophy style of award), the and the eight worst teams from each conference go in the other tournament.
8) The format will be single round robin (seven games) followed by quarters, semis, and finals (three games)
9) The standings points awarded for these tournaments should not be a wider spread, given that there are more teams playing in each one. But it should be enough such that a bottom dweller could vault themselves back into playoff contention if they do well and the teams they are chasing do poorly in the higher seeded tournament. If top team gets 8 points and the bottom finisher gets 0 or 1, then a last place team could make a big move if the current 8th place team bombs against the better clubs in their own tournament.
Granted, I don't have all day to sit around with prior standings and figure out every little detail, but you get the picture.
The pros I can think of? All teams know exactly what they are getting themselves into when they start each year, and they will plan accordingly. Nobody's getting misled when they look at the standings. If you're 12 points out heading into the second tournaments, and you could gain 8 points if you do well and the team you're chasing does not, then you're right back in the thick of things with a few weeks to go. You could even time the regional tournaments to coincide with outdoor games which would become regional championships. The tournaments also would mix things up, helping to break the monotony of a long season.
The cons? Well, if your team is REALLY bad, there's no tournament in the world that will get you to the postseason (well, except maybe Garth's suggestion above). So some teams will still have empty arenas (then again that still happens under the current system). Also, a team in 8th might get particularly screwed, since they would be locked into playing against the league's best, while teams just beneath them get to play also-rans.
I've gone on long enough. Let me know what you think. With the all star break upon us, there won't be many games this coming week, so the rankings will go on hiatus.