The idea that the NHL’s regular season is just an 82-game preseason is perhaps the last holdover from a time when 16 of the then 21 teams made the playoffs. These days, when exactly half of the teams are eliminated, some really decent teams don’t make it. Teams like the Knights last year can rack up 90+ points and not get there, although we thank them because it was totally hilarious. It may be a pointless, never-ending jaunt for teams firmly entrenched in the top of the standings, but for any host anywhere near the cut-off line, it’s a necessary exercise filled with excitement and of drama. As dramatic as a Thursday night in Calgary can be.
But that doesn’t mean the NHL deciding who has 82 games to end deservedly or in complete disheartenment isn’t one of the dumbest things going on in sports right now. You don’t have to look any further than the Pacific Division to find out why.
God save the kings
Let’s start with the Los Angeles Kings. The Figueroa squad (I just thought of it) currently sits in third place in the Pacific, the last place in the automatic playoffs, with 58 points. People, let me tell you, the Kings are good for nothing. They are 17th in goals per game. They are 22nd in goals conceded per game. Their penalty makes the child Jesus cry. Their power play barely reaches the level of decent. Their stats are just above average, 13th in Corsi percentage and 10th in expected goal percentage at even strength. Their goalie is less presentable than a puddle of vomit in Hollywood, a much more common occurrence than most people realize. They’re not even that lucky, considering their shooting percentage is 24th in the NHL.
It’s not even a team driven by an Atlas-like performance by anyone. Kevin Fiala is producing at a points-per-game rate, good for 32nd in the league, and their top scorer Adrian Kempe (I always have this urge to call him ‘Mario’ because apparently I have a fascination with mid 70s argentinian forwards with amazing hair. Unlikely that I’m the only one. And yes it was “Kempes” but it’s that kind of day) is on pace with 31 goals. There’s just nothing remarkable about the Kings, who are screaming they should be a team that misses the playoffs by 5-10 points.
And yet, they have not just a berth but an automatic berth thanks to three overtime wins and four more in shootouts. That’s seven points they earned in the standings in things that have little to do with hockey as we know it.
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Yeah, I know, fans love 3-on-3 overtime. Listen to the crowd during that, I’m told. It’s the same argument Cherry’s sidekicks trot out to keep fighting in the game, and no one who can count to six thinks fighting should be in hockey anymore. 3 on 3 is false excitement. It’s a joke. It’s a fake. I know, there’s a lot going on. But it’s really no different from the Manfred Man in extra innings and everyone hates that too. It’s just being offered a chance to score without doing anything to earn it, that’s the whole point of hockey. I’m sure if we ruled baseball games by not allowing pitchers to throw anything other than batting practice fastballs, we’d see some of the game’s biggest hitters end games with majestic explosions that would make clap a lot of goobers filled with ooze like sealed. What makes the best in baseball the best in baseball is that it can do so while facing the toughest challenges on the mound. Same with hockey. Connor McDavid isn’t Connor McDavid because he can burn through space that other teams just can’t cover, it’s because he creates it against five defenders.
Problem endemic elsewhere in the NHL too
The Kings are not alone. The division-leading Knights have five overtime wins and three more in shootouts. Again, eight points, they basically come out of a skee-ball machine. Their 21 regulation wins are good for 11th best in the league. And he’s a division head? Their goal difference of +17 is 12th. Meanwhile, the genuinely well-built Calgary Flames lead the league in overtime losses with nine. That doesn’t mean they’re missing out on anything, it just means a whole bunch of coin tosses – basically rebounds that bounced one way that led to a 2-on-1 the other way, which is all overtime – haven’t gone their way. And now they’re giving up for their life in the playoffs, even though they have a goal difference about 14 goals better than the Kings.
The Oilers have 25 wins in regulation, again the whole point of the year, which eclipses anything anyone else in the division has done. They get a wildcard spot for their troubles.
We know why it works this way. Gary Bettman and his pals figured out the shooting long ago and the point awarded for reaching overtime creates a fake travesty. Teams always look like they’re chasing the playoffs unless they really are a disaster (and most of them are trying to be a disaster these days by “sucking hard for Bedard” ). Only nine of the 32 teams right now would “appear” to be below .500 to the layman, and a three-point gap to a playoff berth or a division lead seems small if you don’t know how much. point it is difficult to gain ground. this wasteland of broken equality.
But that’s not what it seems, and it never has been. And for that we get whatever, this Kings thing is billed as a playoff team. Maybe this is all a waste of time.
. Kings Los Angeles division Pacific show what point overtime shootouts are bad for NHL