Mike Keenan has coached eight different clubs over 19 NHL seasons and even he can't remember a finish quite like the one his Calgary Flames
endured over the final week of the regular season.
"Looking at the standings and the impact a lot of teams had on each other over the final weekend, I've never experienced something like this," Keenan admitted.
He does, however, have a valid explanation.
"It's definitely because of the three-point game," Keenan said. "We were 12 victories over .500 at one point and when I looked at the standings in the East at that time, so were Philadelphia, Boston and Ottawa, but it didn't secure a playoff spot for those teams as it did us. So, in my eyes, it's strictly related to the three-point game, and how that impacts the standings. It appears gaining that point (in an overtime or shootout loss) has dramatically changed the dynamics of the standings."
Keenan would know, particularly this season. His team has benefited from the overtime rule, which, beginning in the 1999-2000 campaign, awarded one point in the standings to the losing team.
Calgary, which grabbed the seventh seed in the West, finished tied with second-seeded San Jose and third seeded Minnesota in overtime losses (10) among playoff-bound teams in the West. Just six points separate fifth-seeded Dallas and eighth-seeded Nashville, which had nine overtime setbacks. On the contrary, the St. Louis Blues
finished tied with the New York Rangers
for most overtime losses (13) this season, yet finished 14th in the West. The Rangers took the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Do overtimes, which result in more minutes down the stretch, wear on a player's psyche?
"I don't think it wears a team out," Keenan said. "I think you get energized when you make the playoffs. I can recall winning one game (in 1988-89) on the final day of the regular season in overtime against Toronto when I was coaching in Chicago. That really vaulted us into the playoffs with a lot of momentum because we had struggled and worked so hard just to get there. We ended up going to a (conference final), and, in fact, Calgary beat us and went on to win the Stanley Cup."
Keenan realizes gaining a point in an overtime loss has created more parity and excitement in recent years. Still, he feels earning a point in an overtime loss should be a topic of discussion in future League meetings.
"I don't know if the NHL is prepared to step back and return to the two-point game," he said. "They could have all the aspects that we have in the game now and still end up with a two-point game. For instance, if you're tied after regulation, just award one more point to the winning team in OT or the shootout. Quite frankly, I think they should review it to get more clarity on the standings.
"On the other hand, if you're a salesman trying to promote the game, this is probably what one would hope for in that it goes down to the last weekend and provides a great deal of excitement for the fans across the League."
Keenan, whose team travels to San Jose for a Western Conference quarterfinal series that begins Wednesday, is a firm believer in a team gaining momentum entering the postseason.
"If you finish strong, it doesn't guarantee any success in the playoff format, but I think you can build some momentum because you've had to play with a posture, attitude or an awareness of how important each and every game is," Keenan admitted. "In the case of those games and their impact, if you're successful, you should be playoff-ready."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.