Ever since I read this blog entry over on Japers' Rink.
Why? Why is it that there is so little movement late in the season?
Leave it to the great sage, Barry Melrose, to help us figure it out.
The reason..."three-point games."
Let's look at some of the things JP pointed out...
That's the "what." What about the "why?" Here is something to think about...in those last 28 days, the Islanders won two games in a shootout, two extra points they would not have received in the "pre-shootout days." Toronto, which finished one thin point behind the Islanders, won three games in extra time during that span of days, but all were won in the overtime session, not the shootout (overtime was a part of the standings points landscape, pre-lockout). If the Islanders don't get the extra points from the shootout -- if those games remained ties -- they don't keep their spot."With 28 days left in the 2006-07 season, the New York Islanders - the eventual eighth seed in the East - were in seventh place in the conference, and the top-eight in the conference on that day (March 11) all made the playoffs."
Now, of course, it is not accurate to take just this slice of games out of an entire season of shootout-eligible play, and the absence of a shootout might change individual game dynamics. But the point here is how teams are able to hang onto their positions late in the year. And, in those last 28 days, the shootout worked to the advantage of the Islanders to hold on to what they had.
In 2005-2006, the Lightning won two games that went to shootout in those last four weeks. Montreal had no such wins in its last 28 days of play, while Atlanta -- the team that lost ground here -- also had no such wins. The Lightning bested Atlanta by two points in that season, and it was precisely a two win margin (the Lighting winning two more games, the Thrashers with two extra OT/SO losses) that provided the margin.
With 28 days left in the 2005-06 season, the Tampa Basement Lightning - the eventual eighth seed in the East - were in sixth place in the conference, and seven of the top eight in the conference on that day (March 21) made the playoffs. The exception? The Thrashers, who fell from eight, allowing the Habs to make the post-season. And how far did Montreal come? From one point behind Atlanta with 28 days left.
Edmonton squeaked into the eighth spot three points ahead of Vancouver. However, unlike this year's version of the Oilers, the shootout was not kind -- they won only one such outcome in the season's last 28 days. San Jose, which was the other winner in the sweepstakes, recorded no such wins. The losers -- Vancouver and Los Angeles -- recorded one shootout win apiece. In this instance, the shootout seemed not to be a factor (no explanation is perfect, or even necessarily correct).
In the West, eventual eighth seed Edmonton was in ninth place on March 21 and six of the top eight teams in the conference on that day made the playoffs, the only exceptions being Vancouver and Los Angeles who got replaced by San Jose and Edmonton. With 28 days left in the season, the Oilers had the same number of points as L.A. and the Sharks were only one point behind that pair and two behind the Canucks.
We don't pretend that ours is deep analysis; it merely serves to raise a question...does the shootout, presumably a device to enhance the excitement of individual games, actually serve to prevent the kind of jockeying and drafting that might otherwise take place late in the year because teams "above the line" scratch out the extra point here or there? Once teams have sorted themselves out in the first 70 games or so, does the shootout -- and the extra point it offers in a gimmick -- then serve to cement that sorting for the last dozen games?