Sunday, January 24, 2010

The flawed logic behind rewarding points for overtime losses

Shootouts lead to some incredible finishes. But is getting
into extra time, alone, enough to warrant one point?

Post lockout, an entirely new set of rules and regulations were enforced. The salary cap, the new points system, the opening of the ice even - these were to level out the playing field. They did their job.

On November 26, 2009, a former co-worker of mine had this to say on his Facebook account: "there's only 5 teams in the NHL who are under .500. something wrong with the game?" Fast forward to January 24, 2010 and remarkably only four teams carry losing records - The Columbus Blue Jackets, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes. Of the 30 teams in the league, four have more losses than wins. Yes, friend, there is something wrong with the game.

The blemish is not difficult to spot, either. During the lockout, the heads in charge decided that teams' records would be categorized by wins, regulation losses and losses during an overtime period or a shootout. A win, worth two points; a loss in overtime or the shootout, one point; and a regulation loss, zero points. The system encouraged competitiveness in standings - and yes, it did its job there - however, on the ice, endgame results were anything but competitive.

Think about it for a second. You go into overtime after playing an astoundingly physical end-to-end game for 60 minutes. You've been harassed and assulted all night. You're gassed - mentally and physically. Your team has notched one point in the standings so human nature dictates that taking a play or two off during the five-minute extra frame to regroup and recuperate is only humane. If you played out this situation on the ice, human nature will have some of these athletes mailing it in after regulation, if only for a couple of plays, because they're aware that their team's not leaving the arena that night empty-handed. Adjust the scoring system to wins and losses and you're promoting 60+ minutes of all-out, leave-everything-on-the-ice type of hockey. Classic hockey.

Logically, taking an opponent into overtime is not achieving anything. You're still on par with your nemesis. Overtime should decide a game; a shootout only highlights a small aspect of the game: the one-on-one encounter. Really, how often do you see a shootout in a regulation game? Hardly ever.

Promoting the shootout as a deciding aspect of a game would play to some of the untapped market, the skeptics who couldn't appreciate a brutal 2-1 war. A score of 2-1 generally translates to a boring product to those who follow football and basketball. So the league brilliantly revamped the rules and the results were instant. High-scoring 6-4 games with fluent on-ice action.

To the fan who followed the game for five year, seven years, a decade or more, though, the novelty of the shootout wore off fast. It was essentially flipping coin to decide the outcome and took away from the game's core: teamwork; endurance; an earnest effort. And if you lose in the shootout, no worries, you're still rewarded for your efforts. Maybe you didn't play as hard as the other team, or you didn't play a better game tactically - you didn't win, but you showed up so we'll reward you.

That one point could have playoff implications. For example, as it stands, Detroit (25-18-8 through 51 games played) is tied for the eighth spot in the West with Calgary (26-19-6 through 51 games played). Calgary has more wins but because of Detroit's ability to extend games beyond regulation, Detroit is right there with them. On par. An even level.

In the East, positioning for the eighth seed is even more extreme. Philadelphia (26-21-3 through 50 games), NY Rangers (24-21-7 through 52 games) and Montreal (25-23-5 through 53 games) all share an identical point total of 55 points. They occupy seeds six through eight currently. Boston - 23-19-8 through 50 games for 54 points - hypothetically could be 23-20-10 through 53 games and sit one point ahead of each of the aforementioned teams. An inferior record but playoff bound on the basis of less regulation losses and more overtime/shootout losses.

A loss is a loss. Don't overthink it. The league is allowing teams to remain in contention because the shootout is marketable and apparently heading into overtime is worth something. Eliminating overtime/shootout losses looks a lot less appealing in the standings - if it were to happen, 16 teams would be below .500, more than half the league. But teams will be hungry and playing all-out hockey, and, more importantly, the 16 teams that advance to the dance will be deserving of a shot at Lord Stanley.

Overtime losses inflate records. Look at your team. Now add four losses to the "L" column; that's a rough indication of how they've played thus far. Are they worthy?

Photo via SportsRoids

No comments:

Post a Comment