- Terry Frei, Special to ESPN.com
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Views evolve, and mine have.
Mine have, because it has reached the point where every time I've heard a coach or general manager of a team with something like a 20-19-7 record brag about being "over .500," or caught a team-paid broadcaster's reference to "getting points in 11 of the last 15 games," or even a writer parroting the propaganda that a team "has gone three games without a loss in regulation"
I WANT TO SCREAM!
Geez, just stand up there and run your fingernails over the blackboard.
Or play "Bread's Greatest Hits" between periods.
As of Friday morning, at least under the standard we're letting coaches and general managers perpetuate, and too many of us seem to be buying into, 22 of the 30 NHL teams were ".500 or better" because they have at least as many W's as L's in the first two columns of the standings.
Frei's "No-Point" Standings
Here is a look at what the standings would look like under Terry Frei's proposed system (through Thursday's games). Note: Phoenix is sixth by virtue of 2-1 record vs. Nashville, while New Jersey is fourth by virtue of 4-2 record vs. Pittsburgh.
Only the New York Islanders, Toronto, Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Chicago, Edmonton and Los Angeles were "under .500."
And wait! Five of the eight are only one game, ahem, "below .500."
After the shootout was implemented in the wake of the lockout, I was fine with the expansion of the standard that guaranteed both teams at least a point when a game was tied at the end of regulation. Its major attraction was, and still is, that it lessens the credibility of the whining about how deciding a game with a 4-on-4 overtime or, especially, the "gimmick" of a shootout is disgraceful. Deciding a regular-season game that way is not the equivalent of throwing a 14th-century Ming vase against the dressing-room wall and shattering it. Especially for the prices fans are paying nowadays, they deserve some sort of definitive outcome in non-playoff games -- before midnight.
But the way it has played out, the way teams and coaches have remained in conservative mode down the stretch of regulation to preserve at least the guaranteed point, and (I admit this is what has sent me over the edge) the way the standings and results are being used in "spin," it all has caused me to change my mind.
Yes, I passed through the intermediate stage, believing that the solution was to make all games worth three points -- three to the winner in regulation, two to the winner and one to the loser in overtime or a shootout, and none to a regulation loser. But that wouldn't much change at least the look of the standings, other than the point column, and it would perpetuate the spin.
The other night, as commissioner Gary Bettman continued one of his periodic mini-tours of league cities, he reprised one of his recent themes. Asked to assess the current season, he said: "The competitive balance is incredible. The races are exciting. The notion that every game counts and matters and is likely to have an implication in terms of who does and doesn't make the playoffs and the seeding, I think is great for the fans."
But I think it's more than that. I think he's grinning like a Cheshire cat because we've generally allowed ourselves to be conned into going along with this .500 ridiculousness, without pointing out often enough that the league average last season was 91 points (not 82) and being passive as teams whine about how sad it was that they had 95 points and missed the playoffs.
So, short of a complete repudiation of the spin approach (and that's probably not going to happen, given the "don't-worry, be-happy" propagandizing, including on team-friendly broadcasts and Web sites), there's a more appropriate course of action than making every game worth three points.
I've also heard from fans who have imaginative points systems, rewarding regulation winners with as many as six points to put a premium on getting the game over in three periods. But that makes the standings more, and not less, complicated.
The solution is simple.
Conn Smythe would turn over in his grave if this is implemented, but so be it.
Do away with points altogether.
Or you lose.
No middle ground. No guaranteed or consolation points.
The standings look like the traditional ones in the other three major sports, except in the rare seasons when an NFL game ends up tied after 15 minutes of overtime.
Wins, losses, percentage, games back.
Yeah, make them pointless -- but more meaningful.
Absolutely, that places more importance on overtime and the shootout, and the latter especially is offensive to purists.
I'm not even going to pretend that there is no merit at all to the argument that having it all come down to a shootout and making it all or nothing is potentially distorting.
The positive far outweighs the negative.
Here's how to do it, with some of the potential objections in mind:
• Make the overtime eight (or perhaps 10) minutes, and revert to five-on-five. If the league only enforced the hurry-up faceoff standards, that would make the added time minimal, or nonexistent.
• Make the shootout theoretically a minimum of five shooters per team. (Of course, if one team has it clinched after three or four rounds, it ends then.)
If a team doesn't like its chances in a shootout, or simply doesn't want to let it come down to that, it has no right to complain if it doesn't aggressively play for the win in the final minutes of regulation or overtime. Plus, if coaches aren't smart enough to realize that this is the way it is and that shootout strategy can't be a what-the-hell afterthought, they get what they deserve.
How might the standings be affected?
That's open to interpretation. It's illogical to assume that if the no-point standard were in effect this season, with a 4-on-4 and a three-round shootout, the games all would have turned out the same way as they have.
Strategies and mind-sets would have been different, and it's impossible to say how much the results would have changed. But just for the sake of example, let's assume all the results would have been the same.
Sixteen of the 30 NHL teams would be below .500.
The real .500.
Two sub-.500 teams -- the 27-30 Rangers and 26-29 Capitals -- would be in playoff spots.
In the West, the demarcation is clean: Every team with a .500 or better record is in a playoff spot.
The major difference in the conference standings is that Anaheim, now in the fifth spot in part because of its seven overtime and shootout losses, drops to eighth, and Phoenix, which has only four one-point losses, moves up from 10th to sixth. Calgary, No. 8 under the current system, drops out of what would be a playoff spot.
In the East, there would be some minor shuffling in exact spots, but the eight playoff teams would be the same.
The three seasons under the shootout have been a transitional and experimental period. You could argue this is all cosmetic. I wouldn't feel so strongly that it needs to be done if we all agree that we're not going to let them get away with offering up this ".500" or "points in 'X' of the last 'X' games" malarkey or, even worse, buy into it ourselves.
It's time to take the next step.
You win or you lose.
No more, "Big point, eh?"
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."
The current points system makes Terry Frei want to scream. So, he's coming up with a different plan. And no, it's not the three-point rule. Try ... no points.