Inside The Box: NHL could be forced to decide things by points percentage again

New Jersey Devils head coach Lindy Ruff. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils head coach Lindy Ruff. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s daily bulletin, covering all the latest news and providing unique analysis and insight, while highlighting the content you need in your lives.

Welcome to the new normal in the NHL. Yes, by new normal we mean checking Twitter daily to see which player has gone on to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list and which latest team has had to shut down their facility either due to an outbreak or out of caution.

We’ve already touched on the NHL’s new reality in a COVID-19 world and not operating inside a Bubble here on Inside The Box, delving into why the league was right to come down hard on the Washington Capitals and four of their players for breaking protocol.

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However, in today’s Inside The Box, we are going to look at why the NHL may have to use points percentage to determine final standings for a second straight year. The league of course used that format in 2019-20 after the emergence of the pandemic brought the regular-season to a halt, so points percentage was introduced to determine who made an expanded postseason format.

And, given what is currently going on in the National Hockey League, don’t be surprised if we see the return of points percentage in 2020-21. After all, the Dallas Stars had their season delayed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Carolina Hurricanes had four games postponed and the whole Central Division is now playing catchup due to those two situations.

Points percentage system could make its return in the NHL in 2020-21

We now appear to be on the cusp of having a similar problem in the East Division after 10, yes 10, New Jersey Devils players were placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol list on Monday. Given the sheer numbers involved, it could be more than a week before the Devils can even open up their training facility again, which would obviously throw the East Division into chaos.

Not only that but, having played the Buffalo Sabres twice over the weekend, the Sabres are now having to wait on further testing and, as a result, their game against the New York Islanders tonight has also been postponed. It could be more than one game, however, if the Sabres get back positive tests which is very likely given that they were in close contact with the Devils for two straight days.

So, where do we go from here? Well, we all knew this was going to be the story in 2020-21 because we have seen MLB, the NFL and the NBA all battle with similar issues and that is just reality when you aren’t running operations inside a Bubble. The NHL was always going to encounter positive tests and outbreaks, and the league was always prepared to take it a game at a time and deal with each situation as they came up.

Therefore, it is now second nature to check Twitter and see the NHL release more schedule changes and that will continue to be the case for the rest of the season. But, and this is the million dollar question, will each team play 56 games this season?

I mean, if you look at the Central Division right now, the Florida Panthers, the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes have only played six games each, while the Tampa Bay Lightning have played seven. They are now playing catchup and tweaks have been made to the schedule, but that is keeping in mind that there isn’t any further outbreaks in that division.

Pavel Zacha (37)
New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha (37). Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

Granted, the NHL designed this whole schedule with flexibility in mind and the option to shift games around as and when needed, while there is a free week at the end of the regular-season that can be used to squeeze in any postponed games and complete the 56-game schedule. By the way, 14 games have been postponed already and we’re only a couple of weeks into the 2020-21 season.

However, say if a team like the New Jersey Devils now have six-to-eight games postponed, then it may be too much to catch up on all of them and that would obviously impact other teams in the East Division too. As a result, the NHL would then be forced to either roll back each team in that division to the same amount of games, say 54 or 52, or use the points percentage system they used in 2019-20.

Personally, the points percentage system is probably the fairest way of doing it, although not perfect, and it would probably be the direction the NHL decides to go in should they reach a point where it is simply not possible for certain teams to play all 56-games. Because, remember, not only do the NHL want to have the Stanley Cup Playoffs wrapped up by the time the Tokyo Olympics begin on NBC on July 23rd, but they also want the 2021-22 season to be as normal as possible due to the introduction of the Seattle Kraken and what they hope will be a blockbuster new TV deal.

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As such, the National Hockey League will do what needs to be done in order to complete this season while protecting the 2021-22 NHL season in full, so if that means bringing in points percentage to determine the final standings if all teams can’t play all 56 games, then that’s what they will do and it will just be part of the new normal we are having to get used to.

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