Sunday, July 24, 2005

Aldini Official Prediction: 20-team NHL Playoffs in '06/'07


[Note: this post is not a long complaint, for a change. It's merely interesting.]

As part of Colby Cosh's initial pass at the "New NHL" on Saturday, he laments the continued existence of the "3-point game". Since the NHL went to 4-on-4 OT, the losing team has been awarded one point, same as a tie. The intent was to encourage wide open play and excitement in the OT; whether it has achieved its purpose, and whether the unintended consequences of the 3-point policy have been damaging, is another argument for another day.

What is not arguable is that any problem you would care to associate with the 3-point game, will be much, much worse next year.

There are 30 NHL teams who each play 82 games
  • If every game were worth 2 points, there would be:
  • 2460 points awarded in the standings every season
  • Avg. number of points per team would be 82.0
OK, so what about last season, as the most recent example?
  • A total of 2605 points were awarded in the standings
  • The "extra" 145 points corresponds exactly to the total of 145 OT losses between the 30 teams
  • Avg. number of points per team was 86.8
So one of the effects of the 3-point game policy, for the '03/'04 season, was that the mean team had 87 points, or put another way, was about 5 games above .500.

Attentive fans should not be surprised to read this. The median team in each 15-team conference is team #8, aka the last team in the playoffs. This team has generally had 90+ points over the past several years. The mathematical cause of this is that the bottom 5 teams in the conference are generally further below the mean than the top 5 teams are above the mean; I have no good argument for the actual cause.

Anyway, in the 2005/06 season, there will be no ties. What that means in terms of this discussion is that every game tied at the end of regulation will be a 3-point game.

In 03/04, there were 170 tie games, where 340 points were awarded in the standings, one to each tied team. This upcoming season would award 510 points for these same 170 games, because someone is going to win.
  • 170 new points out of the ether = avg. 5.67 new points per team
  • Now the average total # of points per team is 92.5
Once you consider again that the median (Team #8 in each conference) will continue to be a few points ahead of the mean, then it's clear: 95 points often won't be good enough to make the playoffs, even though it nominally represents a record of 13 games over .500.

This is the root of my prediction off the top. I think the fan & media outcry from these teams who look great in the standings except for that pesky "Rank" will provide the NHL a good excuse to add a prelim round to the playoffs (I've heard Best-of-3, 7 v. 10, 8 v. 9 in each conference).

There's also a separate but no less important point to be made here. Most teams will win approximately half of their overtime (incl. shootout) games. Yes, a few will win more, or less, but especially with the sample size more than doubling (no ties!), most teams will win roughly half of their OT/SO games and lose roughly half.

You are Oilers coach Craig Mactavish, tied playing in Philadelphia with 15 minutes left in the 3rd period. A win in regulation is worth 2 points, a loss zero. A tie at the end of regulation is worth 1.5 points, because half the time you'll get 1 point, and half the time you'll get 2.

Under the previous system, you could assign a value to Tie At End Of Regulation as about 1.2 - 40% or so of OT games ended with a goal, and you could expect that to be your team's goal about half the time.

The new system makes "surviving regulation time" that much more lucrative - instead of winning the 2nd point about one in five times, now you'll win it about one in two times.

So, Coach MacTavish, you gonna open things up in the 3rd? Take a few risks?

I think the shootout will be fun, and I've always liked 4-on-4 OT. But I'm pretty worried about what the incentive to get to OT will do to the quality of play in regulation. It would be a shame if the shootout turned out to be massively popular, but only because the 3rd period is always so dull.

UPDATE: As I noted, I don't like to be a complainer, so I have a proposed solution.

The NHL has decided that they don't care if every game is worth the same number of points (e.g. 2). So instead of making OT/SO games 3-point games, make them 1-point games.

Then there is a genuine incentive to win in regulation, since if it's tied, you are guaranteed nothing, and 1 point vanishes permanently into the ether. There's still only a 1-point difference between winning the OT/SO and losing, so you can't argue that this punishes teams that are generally good, but specifically poor at "gimmick hockey" (for lack of a better word; I'm referring to 4-on-4 OT and the shootout).

You could argue that this punishes good, close-checking defensive teams who tend to be tied after regulation more than average. Based on the stated objectives of the NHL revitalization, the response to this ought to be, "Perfect!", oughtn't it?

The more compelling objection to this scheme is that the average NHL team would be below .500; basically you'd have the opposite problem to all the math noted above. Based on 315 of 1230 games in '03/'04 being tied after regulation, the average NHL team would have 71.5 points. There is nothing objectively wrong about this; it's just bad for the warm and fuzzy feelings of NHL fans who prefer to see their teams as "winning", and thus probably detrimental to overall NHL interest.


At 7:42 a.m., Blogger Chris Selley said...

I think that "95 points should be enough for a playoff spot" is a terrible reason to add another playoff round. This being NHL hockey, however, it's entirely possible that it could happen. Arguments like "Hey, idiots: we've changed the number of points that are up for grabs" are no match for the intelligence-cancelling black hole that NHL fans and beat-writers together create.

To head this off at the pass, I think they should make every game worth 8 points. 3 points go to each team at the end of a regulation tie game, and 2 points go to the winner of either OT or the shootout. That way every game is worth the same, which is intuitive to all but NHL rulemakers, and the fact that Colorado winds up with 438 points should convince even leafsrock4ever69 and freebert484 that 95 points just isn't enough for a goddamn playoff spot.

One serious question about this 20-team playoffs (which as far as I know is an Al Strachan Production/Fabrication): who gets the extra revenue from this three-game series? Surely they're not going to make it more lucrative to finish 7th than to finish 1st in the same three-year period that they make it even more lucrative, as you say, to play for a regulation tie.

At 7:52 a.m., Blogger Matt said...

The new 3-game series will be staged by the NHL, tournament style, in Dayton Ohio on the Tuesday before the playoffs begin.

Actually, I have no idea.

At 8:45 a.m., Blogger funkysmell said...



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