There are things far more important than hockey and sports. Most of us knew that, and if you didn’t you either know now or are well on your way to realizing it. Hockey was a big part of my life. Not as big as my family or friends, but it was a part of most of them as well. Without it there is a void for me, and a chasm for others. It was a beautiful release from reality, when reality was a lot better than it is right now. Hockey and sports are probably needed now more than ever. So many sitting at home, worrying about jobs and money and family and health. We all need a break from reality, because reality these days sucks. It, at times, seems irresponsible and selfish to consider bringing sports and specifically hockey back before the rest of the countries and cities and life in general opens back up. But is there a way it could be done reasonably, safely and responsibly? It appears the NHL believes it can.
The NHL has been very proactive in discussions since the March 12th shutdown on all ways to save the season and award the Stanley Cup. According to many NHL sources the most recent option is a 24 team proposal that would have the top 12 teams from each conference broken in two divisions of 6 going to 4 separate host cities. The games would, naturally, be played in empty arenas. There would be a series of “round robin” play-in games to determine the final 16 (I believe?). Whether they go straight to the standard 7 game series after that remains to be seen, should this format come to fruition. Obviously, there are a lot of hoops to jump through regarding, cities, testing, hotels etc. Probably the most daunting task could be getting all the players to the host cities as many players are currently outside of North America and Canada and the US have announced the border will remain closed until June 21st to “non-essential” travel. Lets assume this is essential and lets further assume that they are able to overcome these obstacles in the future Is a 24 team option the best solution? Let me take a look at would COULD happen without making an ass out of you and me.
Lets be clear, there will be no completely fair solution to determine who should make it to the post-season. Teams have not played the same number of games and the wild-card standings (as well as some division standings) are very close. Trying to level the number of games I don’t think is possible as letting some teams play more real games after such a long layoff will be a significant advantage. So how do you make what is unfair as fair as possible?
Well here is what I think. In the 24 team format I think you would need to give each team a point value based on a level number of games. The results of 85% of the regular season cannot be discounted. You cannot un-play games, so average everyone to the max games played by any one team, 71 games. Those teams who have not played 71 games would have points added to their total based on their average performance from the regular season.
Example: The New York Islanders played 68 games and accumulated 80 points. that translates to 1.18 points per game. 3 games times 1.18 points equals 3.54 (3.5) points. The Islanders are assessed a “regular season” point total of 83.5. If you do this for the top 12 teams in each conference, this is the result.
Eastern Conference Western Conference
1st Boston Bruins 101.4 points 1st St. Louis Blues 94 points
2nd Tampa Bay Lightning 93.3 points 2nd Colorado Avalanche 93.3 points
3rd Washington Capitals 92.6 points 3rd Vegas Golden Knights 86 points
4th Philadelphia Flyers 91.6 points 4th Dallas Stars 84.4 points
5th Pittsburgh Penguins 91.5 points 5th Edmonton Oilers 83 points
6th Carolina Hurricanes 84.6 points 6th Nashville Predators 80.3 points
7th New York Islanders 83.5 points 7th Vancouver Canucks 80.3 points
8th Toronto maple Leafs 82.2 points 8th Calgary Flames 80.1 points
9th Columbus 82.2 points 9th Winnipeg Jets 80 points
10th Florida Panthers 80.3 points 10th Minnesota Wild 79.2 points
11th New York Rangers 80.1 points 11th Arizona Coyotes 75.1 points
12th M Canadiens 72.0 points 12th Chicago Blackhawks 73.1 points
I would have the 4 divisions of 6 teams set up with the following rankings. 1, 4, 5, 8, 10 and 12 and 2, 3, 6, 7, 9 and 11. Each team plays each other once. The top teams battle to keep their position as well as get some meaningful playing time in. The other teams battle for position and their playoff lives. It also would start a bit of a “rivalry” as the 1st two rounds of the playoffs would be against these very teams (to avoid extra travel to another host city).
Now there are a couple of things I do not not like about this. Firstly, we are awarding points (granted very few points) to teams for results they did not actually earn. There is no way of getting around that this is not an ideal situation and I could live with this detail. Second, Montreal and Chicago (and probably Arizona) should not be here. Again, it is not an ideal situation and 24 is a nice round number that goes into 4 beautifully. 22 is ideal, but harder to work. 20 is not enough as it eliminates teams that are actually within a point (or less) of getting into the final 16.
There are also a couple things I could LOVE about this format. It could get rid of the ridiculous Division rankings that give teams a better seeding than they deserve and forces better teams to play each other earlier than they should in the playoffs. The top two teams in the East are (were) the Bruins and the Lightning and they would be forced to play in the 2nd round (had they have won their series). Same thing in the West with the Blues and Avalanche. Here the NHL would have an opportunity to go (and test) a straight seeding system. 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, 4 vs 5. Beautiful. Another thing to love is it would make for some intense and meaningful hockey right from the first puck drop. There really will be no home ice advantage, so just making the final 16 will be the goal. So many teams with a few points between them, these will be 5 huge games. Now the hockey will be a bit sloppy and very preseason like, but there is no way around that. There is a problem that Montreal would have no shot of making the final 16 (5 games worth 2 points and they are more than 10 back). Chicago has only a slightly better chance. SO…you make a win worth 3 points, shootout win 2 points (with one point going to the loser of the shootout). The odds are still long, but you’re saying there is a chance (for you Dumb and Dumber fans).
I don’t really know what the NHL has planned, but I think I would be quite content with this format. I mean, I would be content with almost any format. I do think this brings some new interest with the 1 to 8 seeding as well as the 3 points for a win, making teams press a bit harder to get that. And who knows, it just might be an experiment that sticks. It still feels like we are a long way from the light at the end of the tunnel, but we can see it. And we need to keep walking towards it. In the big picture, sure it is not the most important thing, but it would sure brighten up the look of that big picture. It’s the little things, afterall.