What If The NHL Played An NFL-Style Season?
I was very intrigued by the concept of this article when I first saw it. It took an NBA and MLB team’s full season and compressed it down to their first 16 games to compare their schedules and playoff implications to that of the NFL season. I was curious to see if there was any relation between a team getting off to a hot start and their chances of making the playoffs. What I noticed was that strong teams in the NBA usually start the season off on the right foot, and they beat the weaker teams that they are supposed to. The teams that made the playoffs in this new format more often than not did in real life as well.
I was disappointed to see that an NHL result of this article was not included, so I took a few hours of my time and did it myself. I saw that weak teams got off to strong starts and strong teams got off to slow starts. Over the span of three seasons, 25 out of the 30 teams made the playoffs, save for Florida, Calgary, Atlanta/Winnipeg, New York Islanders and Minnesota.
Here are the rules of how records were calculated, again from the original article:
- The regular season is 16 games—each team’s first eight home games and first eight away games. (For baseball, I went with first game of their first eight series, home and away.)
- Tiebreakers are decided by comparing the teams’ records in their ninth home and away game, then the 10th if needed, etc.
- Playoffs are structured like the NFL (12-team, single elimination). There are only three divisions, so the team with the best record that doesn’t win its division also gets seeded in the top four (like what the NBA does now).
- The playoff result is based on the first time the teams faced each other, on the correct court, after the 16-game “regular-season” is complete, if possible.
My process was to reference each team’s season on www.hockey-reference.com, count the first eight home and away games and then add up the point totals in the standings. Like the real NHL, a win is worth two points and an overtime or shooutout loss equals one point.
Here are my results for the past three seasons:
- The Columbus Blue Jackets go 7-1-0 on the road for the season and finish fifth in the West. In the real season, the Blue Jackets would end up losing 19 of their final 22 games to finish 13th in the West. The Colorado Avalanche also benefit from a good start, as they would win only five of their last 30 games to close out the real life season, finishing second-worst in the league.
- Regulars in the playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings improve from their real life second-round playoff exit to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Their opponents, the Philadelphia Flyers, end up winning the championship, reversing the real life result of losing to the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs.
- The St. Louis Blues, who wouldn’t have made the playoffs otherwise, use a strong start 7-0-1 record at home to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
- The Buffalo Sabres, a scrappy team who end up losing to the Flyers in first round in seven games, can’t start the season off right and end up last in their division and miss the playoffs.
- Always known as a team to choke in the playoffs, the San Jose Sharks don’t even make it in. Despite having a very strong nucleus, they must now answer the question of it being time to ‘blow it up’ and rebuild.
- The Edmonton Oilers young core develops faster than expected and they capture the Northwest Division crown. They make the playoffs for the first time since advancing to the Finals in the 2005-2006 season. Another team with a long playoff drought, the Toronto Maple Leafs, also win their division. Imagine the media frenzy in both these cities for teams that not only end their long playoff-less streaks but win their divisions as well.
- The Dallas Stars jump out to a hot start to begin the season, finishing with the best record in the Western Conference.
- The Florida Panthers don’t make the playoffs after winning the division in real life. They fail to break their streak of ten seasons without making the post-season.
- Stalwarts in the playoffs for the past two decades, the Detroit Red Wings fail to reach the post-season for the first time in 20 seasons. Could this be the beginning of the end for one of sports’ all-time empires?
- The real life Stanley Cup Final competitors, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils, both fail to even make it to the post-season. Also, despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy in the real season, the Vancouver Canucks start too slow to make the playoffs.
It is interesting to note that because of the lockout schedule, the 16 games that were played in the ‘NFLified schedule’ are 1/3 of the real life 48 game season.
- The point for an overtime or shootout loss has always been a topic of debate, however the Nashville Predators won’t complain. They make it into the playoffs with a higher ranking than their divisional counterpart St. Louis Blues, despite finishing with less wins.
- The New Jersey Devils win 10 of their first 16 games and make it all the way to the Conference Finals. In the real season, they would only win nine more of their 32 remaining games on the schedule.
- Since the NHL switched to a 16 game schedule, the Chicago Blackhawks post a league-record 29 points this season, going undefeated in regulation (in real life, they would not lose in regulation for 24 games to open the season). However, they are bounced from the playoffs without winning a game and can’t match the real life result of being Cup champions.
- New coach Adam Oates struggles in his debut as the Washington Capitals finish with the worst record in the league. Alex Ovechkin ends up with just 10 points in 16 games (he would then score 46 points in the remaining 32 games to win the Hart Trophy, and the Capitals the division) and reignites criticism of his sometimes selfish and nonchalant play.