NHL 32 Teams Revamp

With the announcement that the National Hockey will finally welcome Seattle into its folds – a much overdue addition – the league will finally have two balanced Conferences with 16 teams in each one. The Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association won the Cup in 1917, beating the National Hockey Association’s Montreal Canadiens. The NHL was founded later that year. Time will tell if the ownership group will chose to build on the City’s hockey history or not but either way, it will generate excitement in the Pacific Northwest.

And with the expansion, what better time for the NHL to revamp and balance its schedule to make the league more equitable for everyone? Since the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the odds of making the playoffs have been higher in the West than in the East, with one fewer team not making it to the Stanley Cup rounds. It’s also very difficult to balance a schedule with an uneven number of teams, let’s admit.

Regular Season

While I’m sure some NHL executives would go along with that plan, many others would be totally against it… for revenue purposes, but here is what I would personally love to see. So regardless of the naysayers, hear me out on this one.

First thing’s first: get rid of the divisions. Back in the days when you had 4-5 teams per division, there might have been some benefit of having divisions, in order to create some rivalries. But with eight teams per division, it’s not the case so much. Rivalries in today’s NHL are built in the playoffs. So you go with two Conferences, no divisions. So far so good?

Each team would play two (2) games against each team of the other Conference. One at home, one away, as they are currently doing. This allows for fans to get the opportunity to see each and every team in the league at least once. So two games against 16 teams would result in 32 games played.

On the current 82 games schedule format, this would leave 50 games to play within your own conference… but for any given team, there are 15 other teams in their Conference. It takes no mathematician to figure out that you 50 doesn’t divide equally by 15 so by keeping the number of games as it stands, it would create some complications.

If the NHL wanted teams to play 4 (4) games against each conference rivals (2 home, 2 away) it would total 60 games (4×15). Add the 32 against the other Conference and you have a 92 games schedule. That’s not going to happen. The season is already too long and the NHLPA would never go for that… and rightfully so.

Now if they play three (3) games against each team in their own Conference, it represents 45 games (3×15). Add the 32 extra-Conference games and you would have a 77 games schedule. Ideally, this a more feasible solution and it would allow room to squeeze in the World Cup and the Olympics, each one every alternating 4 years. This means that every two years, there would be an international tournament within the NHL season. The only imperfection is that teams would be playing two home games and one away, and vice-versa, against any given team within their Conference.

But wait… a 77 games schedule? That’s five games (82-77=5) where owners are losing revenue. They’re definitely not going to go for that, right? So in order to satisfy that revenue loss by the owners, what if we were to cut their biggest expense? What if we clawed back the players’ salaries and the salary cap by six percent (6%), which is the equivalent of 5 games over 82?

Playoffs

The NHL season is long and grueling. Why not make it mean something – or at least more than what it means under the current format – by rewarding the players for their hard work? The best teams in the regular season should have a clearly defined advantage and mostly, not be penalized for being in a tougher division! The playoffs’ format as it stands today makes no sense to both NHL teams and their fans. The playoffs should be sorted by Conference and the higher you finish in the standings, the weaker your opponent should be (on paper) based on the regular season.

Eastern Standings Feb.7/19

Not accounting for travel, the ideal format would be to ignore Conferences and go with the old 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, 3 vs 14, etc, and allowing for a chance to see an Edmonton vs Calgary, Los Angeles vs Anaheim, Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh, Montreal vs Toronto Stanley Cup finals. But due to unfair travel time and costs, that’s not going to pass with neither the Board of Governors or the NHLPA. So the next best thing to do is to go with the overall Conference standings. First place in the Conference faces the eight place team, 2nd vs 7th, 3rd vs 6th, 4th vs 5th. For subsequent rounds, reseed the teams based on the regular season.

Shutout the shootout

Can we please finally get rid of this shootout gimmick?!? It should have never been there to start with. You don’t see the NFL decide games with quarterbacks throwing footballs through hoops, MLB with a homerun competition or the NBA with free throws. If teams are tied after 60 minutes, play five minutes at 4 on 4. If they are still tied, then play five minutes at 3 on 3. If still tied after 70 minutes, it’s a well deserved tie game by both teams.

I did some research in the BCHL a couple of years ago and over a period of six years, only 2% of all games ended in a tie game. I have attended games ending in a tie and with this format of OT, everyone was happy, including the fans. The OT is spectacular and extremely entertaining and that, even if you had the most boring first 60 minutes. Assuming the same ratio, this would mean 25 games in the NHL would result in a tie on an 82-game season.

Last but not least, lose the loser point. Winning team gets two (2) points, whether it’s in regulation or overtime. The losing team gets nothing, they have lost game! No room for consolation prize here, it’s professional sports. Now if teams are still tied after the second OT, the game ends in a tie and each team gets one (1) well deserved point.

The league has made some good choices, but some pretty bad ones too in recent years when it comes to the tradition of hockey, with the Instigator rule change being the biggest mistake. It’s time to give the game back to the fans, give them what THEY want. Afterall, we know that Gary Bettman will lockout the players again soon, as he’s done every time.

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Habs and Playoffs: 5 Missing Ingredients

The second half of the NHL season is when you separate the boys from the men. That’s when teams start building an identity and momentum. That’s when key players are able to bring their game up to the next level in order to help their team make a legitimate push for a playoffs’ spot. If the eye test is any indicator, it is becoming more and more obvious that the Montreal Canadiens are closer to boys than they are to men.

Let’s not be fooled by their record on their last road trip, separated by a turkey Christmas dinner here. The game the Canadiens most deserved to win was the one in Tampa Bay, which they ironically lost. That was the last good team effort. They have not been playing well for quite some time and their inconsistency, while to be expected with such a young team, is ultimately slowly catching up to them. While teams could get away with playing 20-30 minutes a game earlier on in the season, it’s no longer the case when teams are getting down to business.

Aside from their lack of experience, there are five (5) key areas which are clearly hurting this team, keeping them from being able to take the next step. In no particular order, they are:

The Powerplay

Everything has been said about the Habs’ lackluster powerplay. Many, myself included, thought that things would improve once Shea Weber would be back at the point but it hasn’t been the case. While he did score a few goals early on, teams have adjusted and are taking away the Canadiens’ biggest threat. In the last 10-12 games or so, Weber has had very few opportunities to shoot the puck as teams know that they can afford to cheat towards him, since the Canadiens are lacking imagination down low on the powerplay.

More than just Weber, it’s poor decision-making and execution that’s making the Canadiens their own worst enemy. Instead of creating passing lanes, the Douin, Domi, Tatar, Kotkaniemi and company are making the low percentage passes which get intercepted or deflected. And when they finally find a passing lane, the pass is off, in the skates or on the wrong side for a quality one-timer. There are also way too many “no-look” passes. Sitting dead last in the NHL with a 12.8% success rate, it is inexcusable to see them that low with the skills that they have.

Faceoffs

Hockey is pretty basic game. When coaching, I always told my players that you either have the puck or you are chasing it. You spend a lot less energy when having the puck and controlling the play than having to spin and turn trying to retrieve it. The number one and easiest way to get that puck is to win your faceoffs. While the Canadiens have found some guys who can play centre, they cannot win faceoffs, which means that just about every time the puck is dropped, they’re the ones chasing, trying to regain control. Only the Washington Capitals have a worst faceoffs percentage than the Habs in the NHL.

Left defense

While Victor Mete has improved since coming back from a short stay with the Laval Rocket, others have plummeted. Mike Reilly has lost the poise and confidence he displayed earlier on this season. David Schlemko and Karl Alzner are closer to AHL caliber than NHL. Jordie Benn has played much, much better as off late but he is more efficient on the right side. He and Brett Kulak form a pretty decent third pairing.

Marc Bergevin has done an excellent job finding quality centre prospects and getting Max Domi proves to be an excellent move. Where he has failed so far as a GM is by being unable or unwilling to pay the price to get someone worthy of playing on the top pairing alongside Shea Weber. Someone who can skate, pass the puck, and play 25-27 minutes a game. Maybe one day Mete will be able to do that. Maybe one day Alexander Romanov will be the guy. But if you want to make the playoffs, you need someone now… or yesterday! While things have changed since, we explored 24 potential options recently on this blog.

Lack of top-end skills

Tampa Bay has Point, Stamkos and Kucherov. Colorado has MacKinnon and Rantanen. Calgary has Gaudreau and Monahan. Winnipeg has Scheifele and Wheeler. Toronto has Tavares, Matthews and Marner. Boston has Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak. Pittsburgh has Crosby, Malkin and Kessel. Buffalo has Eichel and Skinner. Heck, even if things aren’t rosy in Edmonton, they have McDavid and Draisaitl.

The Drouin/Domi duo is not enough.

The lack of top-end, game breaking ability is hurting the Canadiens. Yes, they score goals. But when the game is on the line, when you need a goal to tie or win a game, they don’t have that huge threat that other teams have. This, in the end, is costly for the Canadiens. With scoring by committee, you can’t send that ‘committee’ on the ice all at once when you need that elusive goal.

Too little grit

As the going gets tougher, the Habs’ lack of size and grit at key positions is starting to surface. With the exception of Weber and Nicolas Deslauriers, the grittiest players on the team are small for the most part. They don’t come any grittier than Brendan Gallagher but he won’t instate the fear of God into anyone. Byron, Domi and Shaw the same.

Too many of the Canadiens’ top players are shying away from physical contact and the dirty areas, particularly Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar and we’ve seen many examples lately, against bigger teams. And the games aren’t going to get any easier. Jesperi Kotkaniemi hasn’t filled in yet and he spends more time on his knees than on his skates, or so it seems. It will come, but he’s not there yet.

Conclusion

In conclusion, those are the reasons why the Canadiens are unlikely to make the playoffs when the dust settles. The team has taken huge strides since June 2018 but there is a lot of work to do still, before being considered a threat in the Eastern Conference. While my early prediction was that they would sneak into the playoffs, I have to admit that it is becoming less and less likely as the season progresses. This doesn’t mean that we should start asking for heads to roll, folks. The team is heading in the right direction. But we will need to give Bergevin and his team a little bit more time to address the points mentioned above. Go Habs Go!