Saturday, 14 March 2015

Doing away with stifling defensive systems in the NHL is an easy fix.

Often the topic of conversation turns to hockey being entertainment.  And it is, fundamentally, but the people who have a lot of influence on that, the coaches, the GM’s, they’re not in it to entertain.  Their jobs, their legacy is dependent on winning.

So we have to align their goals with the paying public’s. And I’ll beat this drum again: we need to stop handing out two points for a win, one point for OTL, etc. That encourages stifling, defensive hockey, and the drafting of big tough players and checkers over players who can actually create.

I missed the Corey Locke era, but often see it wistfully argued that it’s too bad he couldn’t ‘make it’, with all his ability, his size was a strike against him he couldn’t overcome. Meanwhile Shawn Thornton and Chris Neil, Mike Hough and Raffi Torres, they get lengthy NHL careers.

For coaches and GM’s to take a closer look on the Charles Hudons and the Magnus Nygrens over the Brady Vails and the Mark Miteras, there needs to be an upside to having on your roster skilled guys, magicians with the puck who will wow the fans. There needs to be a disincentive to employing guys who can only distribute elbows.

So let’s reward teams that skate and try to score goals, as opposed to leftwing lock the other team to a state of futility, and the fans into a stupor. Let’s make it advantageous to keep the pedal to the metal, instead of playing possum when you have a lead in the third. Let’s not allow teams who coast to the end of the third period to protect their point to profit from that.

So instead of the current point system, here’s what we should do, to foster the entertainment side of our beloved sport.

A win = 3 points

An OT win = 2 points

An OT loss = 1 point

A loss = 0 point

Scoring ≥5 goals = (bonus) 1 point

Win by 3 or more goals = (bonus) 1 point

In this format, an Ottawa Senators team with Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza would thrive, rather than be reduced to having to find ‘an answer’ for Darcy Tucker and Wade Belak. You wouldn’t think that, gee whiz, we sure have a lot of scorers, but we’re short of grinders, we need to get some more of those. When the time comes to choose between Mike Bossy and Dwight Foster at the draft table, the ‘choice’ wouldn’t be up for discussion.

International rugby was getting stifled in the past because some teams would just, as soon as they gained possession, kick away the ball to clear out their end of the field, it was their version of the dump and chase. If you played enough anti-rugby in the opposition zone, at some point you’d get lucky and be awarded a penalty that you convert by kicking at goal. So the game became a quagmire, a succession of penalty kicks, and teams that were trying to advance the ball, fan-friendly styles like New Zealand and France’s, were not strategically advantageous.

The IRB made some significant changes to the game, by increasing the value of the try from four to five points, so that now with a convert you could get seven instead of six points. There was a reward for trying to score a try, instead of just kicking for goal and a cheap boring three points.

Further, a similar system of bonus points in tournament play as I outline above gave both teams a reason to keep playing hard to the final whistle, instead of packing it in when the point differential became daunting. So a bonus point was up for grabs for teams who scored four or more tries in the game, regardless of the game's score.  Even if the losing team was down by two tries, it had a reason to try to score, and the same for the leading team.

Along with a slew of other changes, with the main philosophical approach being that the attacking team was given the advantage when play broke down, when one team was playing obvious anti-rugby by collapsing a maul or wheeling a scrum, the game was rescued from the low-scoring borefests they were threatening to become. Hockey would do well to follow suit. If a player is headed towards the net with the puck against a checking player, and they both go down simultaneously, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who made them fall, who stood to gain by it. In a tedious cycle along the boards where a player falls on the puck to freeze it, or the net comes off its moorings during a goalmouth scramble, again, we can deduce who was trying to get a whistle, who was trying to advance the play.

So yeah, if Michel Therrien’s or Dave Tippett’s or Ken Hitchcock’s team is leading 2-1 going into the third, let’s give them an incentive to keep pressing, and to coach that way, to build their lineups that way with their GM’s. Let’s dangle some extra points in front of them for scoring more goals.

1 comment:

  1. Does the NHL make available game scores in an easily computer-parseable format? It would be interesting to recalculate the standings with your proposed point system.