I hope the Flames miss the playoffs. I’ll take it but I didn’t want to see it happen this way.
Calgary is in grave danger of missing the playoffs, almost entirely because of the ridiculous manner in which the NHL hands out OTL/SOW points. The Flames are, by Andy Dolphin’s reckoning, the best team in the NW and by Sagarin’s reckoning, they’re number two. I suspect that Sagarin is using the GF/GA numbers published by the NHL, which include SOGF and SOGA, and would accordingly bugger up the system.
I’ve put together a chart summarizing the OT/SO information for this season. The table is self-explanatory I think, with the exception of the last two columns. XP means extra points. I treat SOW and OTW as extra points, which would not be traditionally available. While it’s obvious that the SOW is the extra point as compared to hockey tradition, it’s less obvious that the OTW should be treated as the extra point. My thinking in treating it, as opposed to the OTL point as the extra point, is that, like the shootout, OT hockey is not the same as regular hockey. Not only is it 4 on 4, but it’s 4 on 4 with a drastically different set of incentives than those in place in a traditional hockey game. There’s no risk of the OTL point being lost – there’s only an OTW point to be gained. Accordingly, I think it’s properly viewed as the extra point. This is a switch for me – I didn’t always view it this way. XP/OTG is just a measure of how effective teams have been at extracting the available extra points from their OT/SO games.
We were discussing this topic in the Alberta Baseball Confederacy draft room last night – I suspect that’s what led to Matt’s post here – and Andy, once he’d been convinced that the SO/OT points impacted the thing, disagreed with the premise that luck plays a huge role in determining whether or not teams get the opportunity to rack up bonus points or not. He doesn’t think that luck matters any more than it does in terms of any other hockey result. I vehemently disagree with this position.
I wanted a fairly reasonable dataset to look at, with consistent rules in force, something that’s disappointingly difficult to come across in the NHL. I chose to look at games played between 1999-00 and 2003-04, when the OTL was in force but before the shootout. Fans of Bill James and baseball research will be familiar with the idea that for something to be a skill, it has to be repeateable. If you can’t show that something is repeatable, it suggests that it’s not a skill but rather, that it’s due to outside factors.
I looked at team results in a number of different categories from 1999-00 to 2003-04. The categories I chose were regulation wins, regulation losses, regulation ties and OT point percentage. I’ve put together a table with each team’s results in a given category in one season along with their results in that category for the next year. For instance, the Oilers won 28 games in regulation in 1999-00 and 34 games in regulation in 2000-01. The next line down will have their 34 wins in 2000-01 compared to their 35 regulation wins in 2001-02. Repeat for all seasons and all NHL teams in that time period. Then, I pulled correlations between the results. My idea is that a greater correlation in one category will indicate that the result is more of an “ability” than a different category with a lower correlation.
So what are the results? Regulation wins and losses are far more repeatable – they had coefficients of correlation at 0.55 and 0.64 respectively. Regulation ties came in 0.16 and OT points percentage at 0.14. I can’t say from this that regulation ties and then mining points in OT is necessarily luck based but I do think it supports my view that it is. Criticisms are of course readily available – a team changes from year to the next and maybe the sample size is too small to detect the “skill” but I’m still inclined to think that it’s largely influenced by luck. I’m also inclined to think that the Flames – like the Oilers, Hurricanes and Senators – have been caught in a bit of a perfect storm this year. They’ve been crappy in OT/SO play and haven’t had many opportunities.
I wrote something a long time ago arguing that the NHL would probably like this because it creates the illusion of more parity in the standings. Last year’s Stanley Cup Champs might miss the playoffs! If the Flames make the playoffs and make a run – It’s the eighth seed making a run! It’s the NHL – anything can happen! It’s at the expense of proficiency as a determining factor in which teams make the playoffs and which teams reap the benefits of home ice advantage though. It’s bad enough that the NHL has such a distorted schedule, with teams competing for playoff berths against teams playing dramatically different schedules. The OT/SO results just push the outcomes even further from skill towards chance. It’s a shame that there’s nobody within the game who will argue in favour of competitive integrity as a value that needs to be protected.