While it hasn’t been one of my favorite new features in this season’s NHL, I’m ready to concede that there may actually be something to this shootout business. I’m doing a lot more scoreboard watching and standings checking than normal at this point in the campaign, and the League seems more competitive than ever.
I came to this conclusion while “Brad Parking” it one day on the road recently. Perusing the “We Don’t Print ‘Ems,” I checked out the standings, counted how many “Reggie Flemings” that the Sharks had in the race for the playoffs, and wondered what the impact of the shootout was on the entire NHL scene.
Let me translate that last paragraph: “Brad Parking” means hanging out in the lobby of the hotel, the “We Don’t Print ‘’Ems” are the League stats, and “Reggie Flemings” are games-in-hand.
Let me elaborate. For those of you who don’t remember him, Brad Park is a Hall of Fame defenseman who would have won the Norris Trophy at least once, had the bulk of his career not been directly opposite a man named Bobby Orr. One of Park’s former Ranger teammates who will remain nameless here has since recalled that during their years together, Park seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in hotel lobbies, people-watching, whenever and wherever his club was on the road.
Meanwhile, Reggie Fleming was one of the tougher NHL players in the days of the six-team League. He won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, played for four of the six original NHL clubs, and also skated for Philadelphia and Buffalo in 12 big league seasons. Hockey legend has it that when presented with a games-in-hand scenario in the locker room, Fleming told his teammate in no uncertain terms to….well…..“forget” the games-in-hand and to concentrate on winning games to catch or stay ahead of the other teams in the standings.
The League stats are another story. Once, when in a city on an off day in the pre-Internet era, I walked into a team’s media relations department and asked if any NHL stats were available. The response I got was a gruff, “We don’t print ‘em.” I received the stats from this individual about 7 minutes into the first period the next night.
Ever since experiencing or hearing these stories, it seems sensible to evoke the memories when talking about League stats, games-in-hand, or hanging out in the lobby of a hotel.
Anyway, as of January 23rd, the Sharks have a 22-17-6 record, which gives them 50 points. That puts them in 10th position in the Western Conference, 6 points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the final playoff spot (note to self: check with Reggie Fleming to see what he thinks of the three games-in-hand that the Sharks have at the moment).
Preliminary examination puts the Sharks squarely in the crosshairs of those wishing to shoot out the shootout. The Sharks are 1-5 in shootouts so far, including a 1-4 record at home, which, in spite of the drama and spectacle of it all, still seems more deflationary, to use an economic term.
Had the shootout not existed at all this season, and had the 2003-04 standings rules been in effect, the Sharks would have a 21-17-6 (1) record for 49 points, which is less than they have today. But they would have only trailed Edmonton by 3 points in the standings, and, with all due respect to Mr. Fleming, they still would have those games in hand.
Let’s take this exercise a step further, and apply the still-older “no points for losing in OT and OTL’s count as a loss” rules. Under that situation, the Sharks would stand 21-18-6 today, good enough for 48 points. That’s still less than the 2003-04 rule total, but under this system, the Sharks would be only one point behind the Oilers for the final playoff spot, and they’d still have the Reggie Flemings.
However, don’t take this as an editorial to drop the shootout or the overtime loss concepts. In fact, as I see it, the current system is actually more unpredictable, with more drama, and is more competitive. It’s more difficult to be successful, and that’s a good thing.
To use an economic analogy, falling positions in the standings in this case may be like falling prices under a 100% reserve gold coin standard, which are not deflationary. Instead, the fall is due to an increase in production, which is good for the game and, in the long run, for the Sharks.
Perhaps what we’re witnessing is a “fractional” reserve standard in the standings, so I’m going to stay skeptical for a while longer. However, on the face of it, all they have to do is win the games-in-hand, and keep on playing at their current clip, and all should turn out well.
You can check all of that out when you examine the “We Don’t Print ’Ems” while “Brad Parking” it on your next road trip. Just don’t ask Reggie Fleming about the games-in-hand.
For the Seagate Technology in the Crease, I’m Dan Rusanowsky.