We've got plenty of time on our hands as the NHL season remains in limbo amid the COVID-19 outbreak, so why don't we use this team to brainstorm some ideas on how to "fix" the league? We love hockey and (sometimes) the NHL but we can probably all agree that it's not perfect.
What changes can we make to make things a little better? I've got some ideas.
3-2-1 points system
The Problem: Under the NHL's current point system, teams get two points in the standings for a win of any kind, while an overtime loss earns a team one point and a regulation loss results in zero. This format aims for parity and, for the most part, it has seemingly done its job. With about a dozen regular season games remaining, only one team in the league has been mathematically eliminated and there are a handful of teams in each conference vying for the final two Wild Card spots. The league was poised for some really interesting races down the home stretch.
But that being said, not all parity is good parity, and the current system just doesn't properly reward teams in a way that makes sense. Why should an overtime loss count as half a regulation win? Simply keeping a game close is worth that much in the standings? Call me crazy, but a team that loses 10 straight games in overtime shouldn't get the same amount of credit as a team that goes 5-5-0 over a 10-game stretch. There's just not enough room to separate good teams that win in regulation consistently.
The Solution: It's an easy one: A 3-2-1 points system. Teams that win in regulation should earn three points, while an overtime win earns two, an overtime loss earns one and a regulation loss earns zero.
With this system, teams are actually incentivized to try and win in regulation. Currently, there's no real downside to letting a game go to OT -- teams are willing to pack it in and play conservative at the end of regulation in a tie game because they'll both be guaranteed a point if it gets to the extra frame, and they won't be docked at all if they come out on the winning side. With the threat of losing a point, you'd see teams play more aggressive towards the end of regulation and that would open up the possibility of more exciting finishes to games around the league.
Ten-minute overtime followed by modified shootout
The problem: Three-on-three overtime is one of the best things that the NHL has going while the shootout is one of the worst. Even if you believe that 3v3 is somewhat of a gimmick and not a true representation of a team's overall hockey ability, you have to admit that it's often an insanely entertaining thrill ride that's impossible to look away from. And you also have to admit it's less of a gimmick than the shootout, which is a glorified skills competition that somehow has too many rules (no spin-o-ramas) and not enough rules (the speed at which players can approach).
There's no bigger buzzkill than when a riveting three-on-three OT leads to a shootout. It's like getting off a roller coaster at a theme park and going straight to wait in line for the bathroom. And while the number of shootouts has dipped since the league switched from 4v4 overtime to 3v3 in 2015, it's still too high if you ask me.
The solution: Just increase the length of three-on-three overtime to further minimize the number of games that ultimately make it to a shootout. If you bump OT from five minutes to 10 minutes, you get more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. But if some games are going to still make it to the shootout, why don't we attempt to fix that too while we're at it?
There haven't been many memorable shootouts in recent memory -- at least not at the NHL level. Think about the last great shootout you remember. What was it? Let me guess, it was this one:
Yeah, thought so. Jocelyne Nicole Lamoureux-Davidson's game winner in the 2018 Winter Olympics of course comes to mind as well, but she only shot twice in that shootout. Oshie was sent to the ice SIX times, and scored on four of them. That's the chaos I'm going for with this.
NHL shootouts would be a lot more interesting if they took the international rules and allowed the best players to take multiple attempts, notably like Oshie did in the clip above. You'd likely have more goals, more highlights and the potential for epic player-vs-player showdowns to remember. Imagine an Oilers-Avalanche game goes to OT and still can't find a winner. Are you bummed, or are you excited about the possibility of seeing Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon square off in a back-and-forth breakaway showdown? Even if the NHL made three different different skaters take attempts before getting to use a repeat shooter it would be an improvement from the current state of things.
Scheduling and playoff seeding
The Problem: In 2008, the league switched away from a scheduling format that saw teams play 32 inter-divisional games, 72 within the conference and only 10 out of conference. Now, every team plays 29 games within their division (4-5 games per opponent), 21 games within the conference (3 games per non-divisional opponent) and 32 out of conference games (2 games per opponent). The reason for the switch was to limit divisional/conference play and allow for the inclusion/promotion of all 30 (now 31) teams across the league.
That may be part of the reason the league changed its playoff format in 2013 to put an emphasis on divisional rivalries. Instead of using a straight-up 1-8 seeding format, each conference is broken up into two separate divisional brackets. While each division winner draws a Wild Card, the two- and three-seeds in each division automatically match up against one another in the first round.
The most glaring issue with all of this is that a strong division forces good, successful teams into tougher and more unfair first-round matchups than they deserve. Take last year's Atlantic division, which featured three of the best teams in the entire NHL. The Toronto Maple Leafs finished last season with 100 points (tied for 7th-most in the league), making them the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. But because the Bruins (107 points, T-2nd in the league) finished behind a historically good Lightning team in the Atlantic, the Leafs had the unfortunate luck of drawing Boston in the first round as Atlantic 2 vs. Atlantic 3. And Toronto lost in seven games... again.
The Solution: The league should attempt to place a little more emphasis on divisional rivalries during the regular season by finding a medium between the old schedule format and the current one. It doesn't seem necessary for teams to play 32 out of conference games every year, so cut that number in half and have teams face each out of conference foe once per season, with home games alternating each year. That way, every team sees all 30 teams at least once per season but divisional and conference games, which typically bring more intrigue, have more shine.
With divisional/conference rivalries getting more weight in the regular season, go back to a traditional 1-8 seeding format in the playoffs and let the postseason rivalry matchups happen naturally without trying to force them in the early rounds. And if we want to get really bold here, I like the idea of completely re-seeding the playoff picture before the third round, having the final four teams seeded based on their regular season records. This would essentially eliminate "conference finals" and sometimes make it hard to crown a conference champion, but it would open up the possibility for divisional/conference foes meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. There's no better way to beef up a rivalry than letting two teams play a best-of-seven for the Cup.
The Problem: Offside reviews have become one of the most infuriating aspects of the new NHL. Since replay review and coaches challenges were implemented a few years ago, the enforcement of the offside rule has been a source of major frustration. We've seen so many goals wiped off the scoreboard because frame-by-frame video analysis revealed that a player entered the zone a millisecond too early or had a skate one or two inches above the blue line as he crossed into the offensive zone. Even worse, some of these reviews inspect zone entries that came well before the goal in question, meaning the entry itself had little effect on the goal-scoring sequence.
Not only is it infuriating to see games come to a halt as we sit through the tedious breakdowns of replay reviews, but the enforcement of these largely inconsequential plays go against the spirit of the offside rule -- which is put in place to make sure teams aren't cherry-picking and gaining substantial unfair advantages over the defending team.
If officials miss a substantial or egregious infraction, it's important that they're able to get it right -- and replay can help with that. But a lot of these reviews put a microscopic lens to a sequence that really had no effect on the outcome of the play at all.
The Solution: Put a time limit on offside reviews or eliminate them altogether. I've always said that if you can't identify an offside in real time or at full speed, it didn't really have much of an impact on the play. It's hard to imagine most fans of the game truly care if a player preceded the puck into the zone by a fraction of a second.
Also, treat the blue line as a vertical plane (think the end zone goal line in football) and a player wont have to actually have his skate on the ice surface in order to be ruled onside while entering the offensive zone. As the rule currently stands, skaters need to keep at least one skate on the ice surface behind or on the blue line when the puck is entering the zone.
To the NHL's credit, they've recognized the headache caused by the current offside dilemma and are looking into implementing the vertical plane aspect beginning with next season.
End of season lottery tournament
The Problem: Like several other sports, the NHL currently has a draft lottery, which rewards (but doesn't guarantee) tanking for draft position. There's not necessarily a major issue with the current format, other than the fact that every year a few teams just become unbearable to watch toward the end of the regular season as they try to maximize their draft position.
The Solution: Let's get weird here for a second. What if there was a mini end-of-season tournament that featured, say, the league's four or eight worst teams playing for extra draft lottery balls? Obviously, you would want to limit the number of games played and days it takes to play out, so a single-elimination format might work best -- maybe a best-of-three "final" if you want to minimize randomness. The winner of the tournament increases their odds of landing a top-three pick in the draft.
Not only does it generate some interest and extra revenue for these stinky teams at the end of a bad season but it also provides a little incentive for the tanking teams to remain competitive and watchable. Plus, it's more entertainment for fans. A battle of the worst is sometimes just as riveting as a battle of the best.
The idea probably needs a little fleshing out, but I'm here for as much chaos as possible -- even at the bottom of the standings.