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Friday, February 5, 2016

You Couldn't BE More Wrong About: Ties in Hockey

The 3-on-3 overtime format has had a drastic effect on the gameplay in the extra period so far during the 2015-16 NHL season. Overtime has opened up as players have more ice to work with, and the new format has finished a much higher percentage of games during the overtime period without the need to go to a shootout. The change has been a success, but can it be built upon? Tuesday Brian Keenan argued that yes it could, that the league should eliminate the loser point, eliminate the shootout, and bring back ties. Nick Case followed up with a rebuttal Wednesday, arguing that ties are boring and that winning is everything. So - who's right?

Brian: Well Nick, I gotta hand it to you, you made a great argument. Boring is awful. And do you know what's awfully boring? The NHL's playoff races, because teams can't realistically make up ground down the stretch because of the awful overtime system the league currently uses. It zaps the excitement of the playoff stretch by essentially setting the field well in advance. Do you really want to trade the excitement of a playoff race for a few extra chances of artificially creating a winner a year? 28.9% of the games have gone to OT this year; 10.5% of all games have gone to a shootout, and using the math I laid out in my post there'd be about 3.8% of all games that weren't ended in the overtime period. That's a whopping 47 games over the entire season ending in a tie, or roughly 1.5 games per team. Do you really want to make the playoff chase BORING because of a measly 1.5 games per team? Does the added excitement of crowning a winner 47 times in a season trump the up and down roller coaster of the bubble teams coming down the wire for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup?

Nick: To say that everything is pre-determined because of the current point system reminds me of the title here, you couldn't BE more wrong.  Looking in our back yard we've seen a team shoot back in to contention on the heels of the current format.  It was largely the "loser point" that kept them afloat and allowed the Penguins to chip away, hack themselves back in to a playoff spot when they were once closer to the bottom of the East than the were a playoff spot!  Further, ask the Montreal Canadiens and the Penguins former coach how they feel about the format as they drift into irrelevancy.

Brian: The problem with extreme examples is that they're not representative of the vast majority of teams that find themselves in those positions. Elliotte Friedman touched upon this subject early in the 2013-14 seaon. At the time, just THREE of 32 teams (9.38%) that were at least 4 points out of a playoff spot on NOVEMBER 1st were able to rebound to make the playoffs. That statistic is now 5 of 46 teams (10.87%) in the present day. Roughly 89% of teams that are two wins or more out of the playoffs when the calendar hits November have been eliminated since the current OT system has started. That's indicative of a major problem and shows just how damaging the loser point is to the playoffs races.

The loser point is essentially a participation trophy at this point. Hey, you showed up and tried hard and almost won, here's a point for not winning! Ties aren't like paying for a fancy meal and not eating; the shootout and loser point are like stuffing your face until you see who wins between your stomach and the waistline of your pants. Ties aren't like never finishing a good book; the shooutout and loser points are like being compelled to read the 5th book in a once good series when the author clearly started mailing it in towards the end of the 3rd book. The shootout and loser point is like seeing a Star Wars Episode XI released that sinks to the level of Star Wars Episode I.

This scenario can decide a World Cup Championship in soccer. Seriously. And you want the NHL to model OT on them?

Because the current setup is like deciding an NBA game by having a dunk contest if the score is tied after an additional 5 minutes. It's like having a home run contest decide any tied MLB game that has finished 10 innings. And the sport you used as your argument against ties, soccer, is the one that actually uses shootouts now and has decided TWO World Cup Championships with a glorified skills contest. Like you said, is THAT what you want the NHL overtime to most closely compare to? At the very least, play 3-on-3 hockey until someone scores a goal, but the current system has made an absolute mockery out of the points system and the playoff race. The NHL doesn't even care enough about the shootout anymore to give teams a fresh section of ice to deal with. They need to do us all a favor and put the shootout and loser point out of their misery.

Nick: I think the greatest flaw in the "Teams never have a chance!" argument is that well... some of these teams just never have a chance in general.  Teams like Carolina, Columbus, Winnipeg, Sabres, Oilers, and Flames are teams that are traditionally poorly run and are really out of it as soon as the season starts.  To say that only 5% of teams can claw their way back in, while true, includes teams that never really had a chance.  It's like arguing that the Cleveland Browns never have a shot at the playoffs past November so the NFL should change.  Some teams just don't get it and, aside from the blind squirrel season never will.  Catering to those teams, when parity and salary cap and revenue sharing is already in place to help them, is foolish.  Outside of that, I'm hard pressed to think of an example over the past decade where a team just missed out on the playoffs and would have done anything other than flame out in the first round.

While I mocked the MLS earlier, you turned to the World Cup as a reason why shoot outs are dumb.  How can an event of such a global scale be decided like this?!  Well the World Cup is only the most viewed event, globally, in sports.  Well over 900 MILLION people watched the 2014 World Cup Finals.  Perhaps that's the kind of model anyone, let alone the NHL, should follow.

Comparing it to a dunk contest doesn't work at all.  Not unless the hoop suddenly becomes sentient and is able to decide whether or not it will allow a dunk.  Nor would comparing it to a field goal kicking contest.  Even your home run derby analogy is tough.  It's finally a one on one match up, but unless the pitcher is able to use his whole arsenal it's not an even one.  In that case, you're just playing another inning of baseball.

The uniqueness of the shootout is that it's two competitors using all of their tools to propel their teams to victory.  It's a goalie using every bit of his range.  It's an attacker using every piece of his skill set to beat the goalie.  One of the most thrilling events I'd seen in hockey was the 2014 Winter Olympics.  TJ Oshie against Ilya Kovalchuk.  My heart pounded and pulse raced as it rarely did in any sporting event.  To see Oshie delve in to yet another move with a seemingly endless bag of tricks was spectacular and the most memorable part of an otherwise boring Olympic games.

Oh and Olympic hockey draws the highest hockey ratings.  The 2010 Final between the US and Canada drew 27.6 million people.  Once again, perhaps it's a successful model to follow for a business.

The NHL game is slowing down.  It's becoming boring and stale because of obstruction and the lesser players being able to dictate the pace of the game.  Allowing ties again only makes the game more boring.  With the shoot out, even if teams mail it in the final half period to promise themselves a point, the game is at least promised not only a finish but likely an entertaining one.  It may literally be the only interesting part of the game.  To get rid of it, to end it without a conclusion, just dulls the game more and in turn hurts ratings even more.

Gary Bettman is sticking around for a while.  This shows little hope of the game becoming faster or more entertaining.  Don't make it worse.  Keep the shoot out.  Keep 3 on 3.  If anything, get rid of the loser point.  Just don't bring back ties.  Please.  I take melatonin to sleep.  It's a lot cheaper than buying the Center Ice package.

We asked you, the fans, if you'd like ties to return or if you'd rather they stay away.  The majority say no way to ties.

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