Last place, or were they?
The NHL and St. Louis Media love to sell the fact the 2018-19 Blues were in last place on January 2nd, 2019. While it makes for a better story, it is a different view of the facts. Alternate facts, as one recently famous politician, has been fond of saying. The Blues were in last place, In points, but not in points percentage.
Points Percentage, what is that you may ask?
Points percentage is the percentage of potential points a team has earned. For example, if a team has played 30 games and they have earned 35 points, their points percentage (P%) would be .583. The next question you may ask is why this is important? The NHL supposedly operates on a points system. The problem is not all teams play the same amount of games at the same time.
30 games=60 potential points.
35 points earned.
Until they all reach game 82, the standings are not correct. Wait a minute, you may say that is not correct. Oh, but it is, and we saw a prime example of this in July 2020.
In late February, early March 2020, our lives were turned upside down. A version of SARS, first known as “Corona Virus,” started to spread around the world. On the 11th of March, first, the NBA shut down operations, and after the games were complete on that same day, the NHL followed suit.
Covid, as it would become known, had stopped the world of sports and most other things dead in its track. The NHL and NBA both wanted to finish their seasons. Both leagues came up with the bubble concept. For the NBA which uses win percentage for their standings, it was easy. They would take the top 22 teams in the league and run a seeding and play in tournament. This would help account for teams that had games in hand and give the league more games to showcase. This would result in LeBron James winning his fourth championship with his third team.
For the NHL, it was not that simple. The NHL teams had played between 71 and 68 games. The teams that had not played up to 71 could miss the playoffs. That would not sit well with either the teams nor the fans.
The solution, take the top 12 teams in each conference by points percentage.
Last Place (in Points)
Let us get back to the 2018-19 Blues. on January second, 2019, the Blues had 34 points in 37 games. The least amount of games played in the league. The teams directly above them, the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings, both had 35 points but had played 41 games each. In fact, the Blues had a P% of .459 which was better than six other teams for 25th in the league and 12th in the Western Conference.
While they may have been last in points, had the Bubble playoff happened using the standings on the second of January 2019, the Blues would have been in the play-in round. So it might be a tad hard to sell the last place narrative when your team would have made the 24 team play-off.
That just might be the best question to ask. The answer is the fans. In a recent post in the Facebook group Coast to Coast Hockey, an Anaheim Ducks fan posted about the Ducks being in first place in the Pacific Division.
Other fans were quick to note that five of the other seven teams pictured in the post had a better P% than the Ducks. what they failed to see, is that four of those teams were in the Central Division. the Ducks were in fact in second place not first in the Pacific. The hard-core fan gets it and knows where to look and how to decipher what the standings really mean.
Those are not the fans the NHL needs to focus on. The die-hard fans are going to watch the games, read the articles, and, most importantly, buy tickets and team paraphernalia. It is the new and causal fan the NHL needs to cater to a bit. This is the fan that you need to be able to understand both the flow of the game and what the standing actually means.
These fans are used to checking the standing from baseball, football, and basketball, all of which use winning percentage in their standings. The MLS uses a point system, but their teams all play games at almost the same time, much like the NFL. Soccer also uses the 3-2-1-0 points system, but that is for another article.
Just like the Ducks fan that was happy when he saw his team listed in first in the Pacific Division, fans of the Central Division are faced with the same dilemma. At the time of this writing, the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche have three and two games in hand respectfully. Currently, the Avalanche are listed as the first wild card.
But in all actuality, they are in second place, just behind the Minnesota Wild and within the margin. The Wild have 40 points in 29 games played; the Avalanche have 36 points in 27 games. Should the Avalance win those two games it will tie them with the Wild and other tiebreakers will come into effect.
What this all means is the standing are not what they seem. The NHL is doing a disservice to the fans and media of this sport by presenting something different from reality. While the St. Louis Blues are tied with the Nashville Predators in points, they are in the first wild card spot and not third place in the division.
The teams do not play the same amount of games until the season ends, so why not use a system that better illustrates what the actual standings are.
Why it Matters
While you might think, why should we change now? There is a precedent for this. I am not talking about the Bubble Play-offs either. They have been using a similar system for decades. It is used to give out individual awards. If two or more players each have the same total, the winner is the one who did it in the least amount of games. They should apply this same system to the standings.
You might also ask yourself, “why did I spend all this time doing the research and writing this article to something that may not even matter?” That is a fair question. I do a daily-ish show about the league, called the “Hockey Fan Report” and during Blues games, I host the “BlueNote Fan Report” which is a pre-game/ post-game and two intermission shows. My co-host and I make the fans a part of the show. A lot of times I hear fans quote the standing as they are presented.
“The Blues are in second place,” We are right there in the division,” and “Since we are in second we are doing good.” You can see the false sense the standings can evoke. Using points percentage, fans would not get too high or too low. They would understand exactly where their team stands and would not be disappointed if they drop in the standing despite winning games and getting points.
It is a simple change that could have a big impact on how the causal fan sees the league and how they understand the game.
Till Next time Hockey fans,
Guy “Hawaii Hockey Fan” Bensing