Contributed by resident economist, Tilt’d Toledo
In an effort to increase scoring in OT, the league began awarding an artificial point to the losing team, in order to encourage coaches to employ more firewagon-style X’s and O’s, beginning in the 1999-2000 season.
While it may not have been their intention when introducing this artificial OTL point, owners had to be aware that they were essentially injecting counterfeit currency into circulation (with Points being the currency that determines who makes the playoffs). In doing so, they were actually devaluing the real points earned by real wins. Furthermore, the distribution of these counterfeit OTL points favored those teams that collected the most losses, thereby creating a false sense of parity among the mediocre teams.
Last season, Boston was a .500 hockey club that boasted a 41-29 record with an additional 12 OTLs. Carolina was a winning hockey club with a record of 43-33 and only 6 OTLs. The Hurricanes won only two games via the shootout (which would otherwise have been tie-games), and they lost only three games during OT (which would otherwise have been Losses). In other words, Carolina accrued only 5 counterfeit points (2 Wins that should have been ties plus 3 losses that counted as OTLs). The Bruins won 6 games via the shootout and lost 5 games in OT, meaning they amassed 11 counterfeit points. The extra 6 counterfeit points were enough to give Boston their 2-point margin for the 8th seed.
With 272 OTLs suffered league-wide last season, it can be concluded that the resulting 272 counterfeit points injected into circulation served to devalue Carolina’s 41 real wins. Under 1998 rules, the Hurricanes would have registered a record of (41-36-5; 87 Pts), while the Bruins would have finished (35-34-13; 83 Pts). Winning 41 times, during the first 65-minutes of a game of 5-on-5 hockey, used to be worth more than performing well in the skills competition. Before the value of wins was diluted by a massive injection of counterfeit points, that is. Today, 11.4% of the total points awarded are counterfeit.
To avoid seeming too drastic, the infusion of counterfeit OTL points was actually spread out over two separate occasions: 1999’s introduction of 4-on-4 OT, and 2005’s introduction of the shootout.
1995-1996 (26 teams) OTLs = 0; Avg Pts/team = 82
1996-1997 (26 teams) OTLs = 0; Avg Pts/team = 82
1997-1998 (26 teams) OTLs = 0; Avg Pts/team = 82
1998-1999 (27 teams) OTLs = 0; Avg Pts/team = 82
1999-2000 (28 teams) OTLs = 114; Avg Pts/team = 86.07
2000-2001 (30 teams) OTLs = 122; Avg Pts/team = 86.07
2001-2002 (30 teams) OTLs = 121; Avg Pts/team = 86.03
2002-2003 (30 teams) OTLs = 151; Avg Pts/team = 87.03
2003-2004 (30 teams) OTLs = 145; Avg Pts/team = 86.83
At this point, owners had to know that if they were to eliminate all tie-games and replace them with a shootout, that they’d simply be injecting more counterfeit currency into circulation.
2005-2006 OTLs = 281; Avg Pts/team = 91.37
2006-2007 OTLs = 281, Avg Pts/team = 91.37
2007-2008 OTLs = 272, Avg Pts/team = 91.07
2008-2009 OTLs = 280*, Avg Pts/team = 91.33* (projected)
The first observation might be that it now takes about 91 Pts to qualify for the top 16 of 30 teams, which is fine. Back before the league employed the OTL, it took less than 80 Pts to make the top 16 of 27 teams. Either way, you need to make the top 16, so whether it’s 79 Pts or 91 Pts is irrelevant. What strikes me, is that only ten years ago, a 41-36 Hurricanes season would have been enough to beat the 35-34 Bruins, whereas last year the Bruins were allowed to report their .500 record, as 41-29-12, giving them the berth.
It happened last season, could it happen again this year? The standings are more bunched together than they were a year ago, so it probably will happen again. Every time a team loses in the 5-minute OT, and every time a team wins in a shootout, that team is collecting another counterfeit point. The significance to Avs fans is that this rule has cost the team a greater shot at Tavares. Colorado has been one of the big benefactors of the counterfeit point, this season. The Avs (2-0) are the only team that is undefeated in OT, as well as the best team in the league at shootouts (9-1). Their 11-1 record after 60 minutes is also the best in the league, while their 9 SO Wins put them tied for 6th in the league at 9 counterfeit points. Just something to keep in mind, as you follow that Ti4T campaign.
One solution to this issue is this. If getting rid of the shootout is off the table, then I say what’s the point of playing OT? It is widely known that the 1999 introduction of 4-on-4 firewagon OTs caused teams to tighten up during the last five minutes of regulation. Since less than half of the 280 counterfeit point games are settled in OT anyway, isn’t it time to stop using this mutant hybrid of a period? Personally, I will always prefer eliminating the shootout, but failing that, I don’t see a need to use both stupid tie-breaking mechanisms.
With OT eliminated, I’d propose that the loser of the shootout get no points. Just like every other shootout loss in sports. And to better reflect the traditional nature of the shootout, I’d expand it to 5 shooters per team. Teams such as Colorado, who have three excellent shooters, would be at less of an advantage if they had to send out five guys each time. I just think it would be a more accurate reflection of the goaltenders, to employ the larger sample size against which they are judged. Goalies, after all, are the ones taking the loss on their record. And to make the shootout as close to a team effort as an individual skills competition can get, having five shooters better represents the size of a hockey team.
So knowing his team’s strengths and weaknesses would figure heavily into a coach’s strategy during the latter stages of a tie-game, whereas now, both coaches invariably revert to a prevent defence. You’d lose the 4-on-4 game of shinny, but you’d open up the game during the 55th minute. Expanding the shootout would replace the rest of the lost excitement that some people get from the short, pseudo-period. A team’s win-loss record would finally be reported using only two integers. More importantly, it would serve to legitimize the breakaway contest as a true test, with a definitive outcome. That might even pave the way for shootout goals to become a legitimate stat, possibly resulting in the Wojtek Wolski Award one day.
Either that, or adopt the 3-point game format used in soccer. Either way, I’m good. Though my ideal plan involves radical changes to period lengths and roster sizes, as well as replacing the shootout with as many 15-minute OTs as needed. What? Versus has something better than true sudden death overtime hockey to air at 10 PM?