Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Radical Proposal to Even Up the Competition in the Pacific Division

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
It's been a few weeks now since the league announced that the Texas Stars would be playing in the Pacific Division next year. While everyone hoped for the best, last week the news came out that the California-based AHL teams would be playing fewer games than the rest of the league.

Now that it's had time to settle in, here's a modest proposal to even things up.

First of all, it might be necessary to establish why exactly an evening up is necessary. If your jimmies are already sufficiently rustled on this topic, then you can skim this section. However, if you aren't sure of all the implications of the shorter schedule for these sun-loving clubs, read on.

It isn't clear at the moment how many games the California Five will play. The Original 25 will play the usual slate of 76 games, which has been the standard for four years now. When the Stars entered the league, it was 80 games but dropped in 2011-12. The best guess at this point is a 68 game season for the California Five.

The main argument is the wear and tear factor. Eight fewer games means eight fewer chances to put your body through the stress and strain of an AHL game. That also represents eight fewer chances to get injured. It's just a numbers game with many injuries and obviously the fewer games you play the less chance you have to get injured.

With fewer games come fewer three-in-threes. The dreaded trifecta of weekend games that test the body and mind of players, coaches and fans alike. While the travel could be pretty easy for any three-in-threes that did occur, part of the reason there are so many is that the league wants to concentrate games on the weekends to maximize the gate. With NHL-owned affiliates caring less about gate and more about on-ice development and not needing to pack in as many games, the battle of 3-in-3s could diminish or disappear entirely for the California Five.

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Travel is an obvious advantage for the Five, but it is no more so an advantage than many Eastern Conference teams. However, those teams only have to travel to 34 roads games a year in our hypothetical season, as opposed to 38 for the Eastern clubs.

With fewer games also come the chances for more rest days for veterans and players who are banged up. As playoffs approach, that becomes more important and means that a club with more open days would be unfairly advantaged as it is able to give more off days and be more prepared for the playoff run.

The playoff run, of course, is where the disadvantage is squarely set on the Stars and Rampage. The Texas-based clubs will play a full slate of 76 games, including frequent travel to California across two time zones, to prepare for the playoffs. All of the above factors combine to give Texas and San Antonio a pretty rough ride in terms of that first round matchup, if they even make the playoffs at all.

With the number of games being uneven, most have guessed that the league would use points percentage to calculate who makes the postseason. That would be consistent with what the ECHL did when the San Francisco Bulls unexpectedly folded a few years ago and the league couldn't get everyone to play the same number of games. That means that a win for Texas or San Antonio is worth two points out of a possible 152 (1.32%) but a win for a California club is out of a possible 136 (1.47%). This means that every point is not worth the same amount.

So maybe it should be. My radical proposal is to base playoff qualification on points alone.

In three of the four divisions, this won't matter one lick. In the Pacific Division, this evens up the playing field for the Texas-based teams.

Let's do a simulation.

For this simulation. I took the records of all seven Pacific teams for the past year and combined them. I had to do a bit of massaging and change the teams that some were based on to make things more representative of a typical year. With these teams actually playing each other, they wouldn't have this many points among them. Our division, at first glance, would have five teams that made the playoffs in 2014-15 all with points percentages north of .579. That's atypical. Therefore, Worcester, which made the playoffs with a .579, is replaced with Lake Erie's numbers for the San Jose sim. A decent team at .539, but not a playoff squad. Second, Manchester had a phenomenal season. That is likely unrepeatable, much like the Stars' 2013-14 season. Instead, I based Ontario's simulated season on the Hershey Bears, who had a pretty great 100 points and won their division.

Alright, so here's our theoretical division with 2014-15 numbers:

Team Based on… GP15 PTS15 PTS%15
ONT HER 76 100 0.658
SA SA 76 98 0.645
TEX TEX 76 94 0.618
BAK OKC 76 90 0.592
SJ LE 76 82 0.539
STK ADK 76 78 0.513
SD NOR 76 64 0.421

This table is nicely sorted since everyone's played the same number of games. Ontario plays Bakersfield in round one and San Antonio plays Texas. Winners move on to play each other and then go to the WCF.

Now let's subtract some games from the California teams.

Team Based on… GP16 PTS16 PTS%16
ONT HER 68 89 0.658
SA SA 76 98 0.645
TEX TEX 76 94 0.618
BAK OKC 68 81 0.592
SJ LE 68 73 0.539
STK ADK 68 70 0.513
SD NOR 68 57 0.421

Alright, great. Same matchups since this sorting is based on points percentage. However, as we mentioned before, those California teams had an easier road to hoe to get to the playoffs. Let's flip it around and base this on points alone.

Team Based on… GP16 PTS16 PTS%16
SA SA 76 98 0.645
TEX TEX 76 94 0.618
ONT HER 68 89 0.658
BAK OKC 68 81 0.592
SJ LE 68 73 0.539
STK ADK 68 70 0.513
SD NOR 68 57 0.421

Same teams make the playoffs, but look at that shift. The Texas teams, who were disadvantaged all year, get an obvious boost in the standings from the change. Because Texas and San Antonio had good years, they even earn home ice advantage in this scenario.

Now the first thing you're probably thinking is, "Well, of course you are going to do the math this way. It makes it a near certainty that the Stars make the playoffs every year!" While that is true, this does make it more likely, my reply would be that this is the price that the California teams pay. Their NHL parent clubs accepted no concessions in their move to the West and got their way with a lessened game schedule. In return, they will have to fight harder for the two playoff spots that they will likely have available.

Of course, they'd probably rather just be practicing.

Is this going to happen? No, don't think so.
Would it work? Maybe.
Is it better than just accepting whatever the NHL hands you? Probably.

2 comments:

  1. The only fair way to do it is have a even schedule. If ownership, players, coaching, fans, etc have problems filling the requirements of a 76 game season they can select a new profession. Screw it, fans pay their salaries (one way or the other) and the fans are yet again asked to sacrifice. How about they expand the roster to ensure guys can rest, if it's such a problem. Maybe lower the NHL salary cap or set in triggers so more funding goes to the developmental side and less to the top 10% of the NHL elite players, you could fund the entire Texas Stars and Idaho Steelheads rosters multiple times over on Spezza's pay alone. Which BTW considering the overall ratings for hockey players salaries should be lowered in that top 10% anyway.

    This is a league slide of hand tricks and that's, don't fool yourself. It has to do with money one way or the other. The concern for the players is BS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here is another option. Have 25% of the AHL roster limited to "68" regular season games, you would have to have a designated list of guys going into the season (in theory your "top" prospects if you in fact want them worked less.) The Coach sits guys now and then to stay under the number. That would also give some of the "AA" guys a dependable chance to be called up or you just expand the roster 1 or 2 slots.

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