Why NHL’s forced parity ultimately hurts its goals (What We Learned)

Getty Images
Getty Images

So much parity in the NHL today. That’s what they keep saying.

And the league says that’s a selling point: Any team can win any game and it’s really not that big of a surprise. If Colorado played Pittsburgh tomorrow there’s probably only about a 58 percent chance the Penguins win. If the best team in the NBA played the worst at the same time, the game would most likely be a 25-point blowout by halftime. We’re told by Gary Bettman that this is somehow good and not at all wrong or bad.

But what the Penguins and their buddies in the Metro division are doing right now, by dominating the sport in a way we haven’t really seen in some time, is awesome in its own right. Currently, five of the league’s seven best teams from a points-winning perspective are from one division, and all but ensure that Metro will put five teams in the playoffs in a way the Central used to (and, I guess, still might).

But there’s difference between what the Central Divisions of the past did and today’s Metro is doing. The Central used to produce multiple 100-point teams because they were all that good. That’s not necessarily true of the Metro, but the way all these teams are getting to 40-plus points in 30-something games is undeniably fun.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Hockey contest now]

All these long winning streaks lately, or to start the year, has really buoyed the division’s best teams. Pittsburgh recently had a seven-game win streak snapped by a solid LA team. The Rangers won 10 of their first 13 games. Columbus has won nine games in a row. Philadelphia’s streak just ended at 10.

That’s objectively fun for everyone, especially the fans of those teams. But even still, the idea that you could root for those streaks to come to an end is also fun.

One of the things that is incredibly dumb about the NHL is that the league feels the need to pursue more offense at every turn. The reason this is dumb is not that the league needs more offense — it, in fact, does — but that more offense is not conducive to reaching the league’s end-goal, which is creating a sense of false parity.

In the Metro right now, the gap between fifth-place Philadelphia and sixth-place Carolina is 10 points. We know this is an insurmountable lead. It’s 10 points, and that’s basically impossible to make up without the Hurricanes going on a Flyers-like run, and the Flyers simultaneously collapsing with the force of a dying star. The odds those things happen at the same time are quite small.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, the gap between fifth-place Calgary and sixth-place Vancouver is six points. But we know from experience at this point that a six-point difference even at this point of the season is likewise very difficult to make up under the current “loser point” system the NHL has set up.

The league would argue that, hey, the Canucks are only seven points behind Edmonton for a guaranteed divisional playoff spot. That’s only four wins! That’s doable. But again, we know it’s not.

And the reason adding more offense to the mix does not help the league achieve that end is clear here: The narrow gap between good and bad teams only exists because the league is low-scoring.

With fewer goals, you get more overtimes (especially when playing just to get to overtime is incentivized), and that gives everyone more points and makes the standings appear to be closer than they are.

But if you increase scoring in the league, it’s not as though every game goes from being 3-2 to 6-5. The sport simply does not work like that; you can’t look at it in the context of “there are this many one-goal games, so if scoring goes up, there will still be that many but with more goals.” You have to look at it marginally: teams that win 3-2 scored 60 percent of the goals in that game. If an average game has 11 goals in it, the better team will be more likely to score 6.6 of them, which means the other team has 4.4. In this way, the gap between a good and bad team has increased from one goal to 2.2, more than doubling the difference.

[Follow Puck Daddy on Facebook]

For example, it used to be quite common back in the ’70s and ’80s to see more than a few of the league’s largest goal differentials land somewhere in the plus-90 range. The league leader often cleared 100. Now the largest tends to be more like plus-60.

Increasing offense makes easy, high-scoring wins more common, and one imagines that the league would abhor regular-season blowouts being on national television so often. After all, the league endeavors to get good bigger-market teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago on television as often as possible, and for good reason. But would that be the case if those teams were getting their games good and decided by the middle of the second period?

If those teams are scoring a similar percentage of goals but in greater number, they’re also more likely to win a larger percentage of their games. More scoring obviously won’t eliminate one-goal games, but it will increase the odds that good teams win one-goal games more often. And that makes the standings look more like they do in the Metro.

Which isn’t in the league’s best interest, at least not if it’s trying (unsuccessfully) to convince Jets fans their team is still in it. That’s mathematically true, and wouldn’t be without fake parity. This, by the way, is the same reason the NHL will never ever adopt the superior 3-2-1 point system.

More goals would also make PDO binges like Columbus’s less meaningful in terms of resulting in wins and losses, which would actually be good for the league in terms of telling you which teams are actually the best.

But if you’re pushing parity, that’s not the goal.

A clearly defined gap between the best and worst teams in a sports league can sometimes be un-fun. It’s not fun when the same six or seven teams in the Premier League, for example, are finishing in the top six or seven slots every year with just a little bouncing around. At least, it’s not fun if you’re a West Ham fan or something. If you’re a Chelsea fan, what the hell, it’s great! (Don’t be a Chelsea fan, though.)

In some ways the league appears more engaging because of its kind of socialist spin on how standings should work. Sports are ruthlessly capitalistic and Darwinist by their nature, but the league works to suppress that because it ironically helps the bottom line.

The idea that they’d change the product to be more “exciting” thanks to three or four more goals being scored per game is therefore diametrically opposed. You can do one or the other. Not both. Otherwise you get standings and goal differentials that look like the Metro’s league-wide.

And no one wants to be told they’re out of the playoffs before Christmas.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks take low-income kids from Orange County on a shopping trip every year for the holidays. How nice.

Arizona Coyotes: Dave Tippett describes how every low-skill team loses most of their games: “There’s a lot of situations where we got beat 1-on-1, and we didn’t beat anybody 1-on-1. That’s, a lot of times, what the game comes down to.”

Boston Bruins: Well, only missing two games after elbow surgery doesn’t sound that bad.

Buffalo Sabres: Now this is a weird situation.

Calgary Flames: The Flames’ special teams aren’t good? It’s almost as though they’re not a particularly well-coached team. Weird!

Carolina Hurricanes: Five of the Hurricanes’ last nine games have gone to OT or a shootout. Isn’t that fun?

Chicago: Oh Chicago’s streaking again.

Colorado Avalanche: I don’t think we talk enough about how Gabriel Landeskog has dropped off in recent years. Not to pin all the blame for this team being trash on him, but he only has nine points this season, and takes barely two shots a game.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The middle outcome here is probably the right one, but don’t tell anyone in the greater Columbus area that.

Dallas Stars: The Stars are at their best when the game is at its fastest. This is such a tough team to figure out, though.

Detroit Red Wings: What a headline. This isn’t anything new.

Edmonton Oilers: Are we gonna praise Todd McLellan for making the easiest decision of all time? Putting McDavid as your shootout winner isn’t brain surgery.

Florida Panthers: Maybe a five-game stretch at home is what the Panthers need to get it together. Maybe? Maybe.

Los Angeles Kings: Looks like the Kings are going to expose Dustin Brown in the expansion draft. Another easy decision. Let’s not make running a team seem harder than it already is.

Minnesota Wild: That’s seven straight for the Wild, and that’s not even the best streak in their division. Tough bounce.

Montreal Canadiens: On the one hand it’s not surprising Carey Price can appear to bounce back after a tough performance. On the other his teammates really helped out, only allowing 21 shots.

Nashville Predators: Honestly guys it’s really not a big deal. Vesey has four goals since Nov. 3. Whatever.

New Jersey Devils: Devils are on five straight losses. We all thought they’d be good this season.

New York Islanders: Wouldn’t think you’d find anyone trying to defend the Cal Clutterbuck deal but here we are.

New York Rangers: Hmm it’s almost like this Lundqvist guy was pretty good all along.

Ottawa Senators: It’s pretty hard to tell the difference between this and a regular Mark Borowiecki shift.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ reaction to seeing a 10-game winning streak come to an end was basically, “Yeah well you’re not gonna win ’em all.” Very healthy.

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is one of those very scary things that happens in hockey sometimes. And then Marc-Andre Fleury gets to kind of casually say, “I was talking to the (doctors) and it was close to the jugular.”

San Jose Sharks: Sure would be nice if some young guys stepped up as the Sharks’ core ages. We’ve been saying that for years, and now it finally seems to be happening.

St. Louis Blues: Yeah if you blow four separate one-goal leads, you deserve to lose.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Every time I think this team has their struggles figured out they go and do something like this.

Toronto Maple Leafs: I know we all thought the Leafs would take a step forward this year, but if they get another high-end player by missing the playoffs again, I don’t really think that’s a bad thing.

Vancouver Canucks: Oh come on.

Vegas Golden Knights: I love this idea from Jonathan Willis. Just bottom out. Why try being competitve?

Washington Capitals: I think they’ll be fine.

Winnipeg Jets: This is one of those things where I’m not sure you can make adjustments to ensure you’re better in one period specifically.

Play of the Weekend

This rules.

Gold Star Award

Tomas Tatar had a hat trick in a win over a solid Ducks team so I guess it’s him who was the best this weekend.

Minus of the Weekend

Of course those three goals were scored on three shots, and Jonathan Bernier let in 27 on 21 in total. So that’s bad, especially against a no-good team like Detroit.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “D3ADLY” is doing strong work.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Aaron Ekblad, 2nd 17′

Florida Panthers: Morgan Rielly, Kasperi Kapanen or another plus?, Top 10 protected 1st



Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.