Takes and trash talk from both ALL sides of the NHL's most obscure PATHETIC* rivalry

* Thanks, Kevin Lowe!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Food for Thought: Think like the Swedes

You know, I wasn’t blogging at the time, but one of the most fascinating hockey games I ever saw was at the most recent Olympics at the end of the preliminary round when Sweden took on Slovakia. On paper, it was a meaningless game, as both teams had already qualified for the elimination round.

But oh, those devious Swedes. You see, the seeding in the elimination round was still dependent on this game’s outcome. If the Swedes won, they would be matched up against Canada. If they lost, then it was a considerably easier Switzerland match-up. The IIHF, of course, was not pleased with the situation, and even assigned some sort of “effort assessor” to ensure that Sweden would not tank the game, even though that appeared to be in Sweden's best interest.

Now Sweden lost that game 3-0 in a game that seemed honestly played, then went on to breeze past the outmatched Swiss on their way to a gold medal. Did they tank that Slovakia game? Probably. But more importantly, should they have tanked that game? Definitely.

Team Sweden reacts to their shutout loss to Slovakia

You may disagree, but really, the objective was to win gold, and there was a fairly obvious choice that factored very strongly in Sweden’s chances. Sweden is not bound to act honorably in the face of a motivational flaw in the seeding system, nor should they be. Sweden, like all teams, should be looking out for its own interest, and if that meant tanking a game for a more favorable opponent, that was the IIHF’s fault, not Sweden’s.

Anyway, the whole point of that memory jog was to take a look ahead at the western conference playoffs, which are starting to take pretty solid form. In all likelihood, we will see a first round seeding as follows:

1 1st in Central vs. 8 3rd in Northwest
2 1st in Pacific vs. 7 2nd in Northwest
3 1st in Northwest vs. 6 3rd in Pacific
4 2nd in Central vs. 5 2nd in Pacific

I know none of this is guaranteed, but several factors, I think, play into this seeding scenario: Detroit and Nashville’s games against the weakside of the Central, the Pacific trio playing against each other, and the Northwest in general being a self-regulating point-generator. Now who fills what spot is where it gets interesting, specifically as it relates to the three Pacific teams, who are now separated by but 4 points and somewhat safely planning on a postseason (Anaheim 74, San Jose 73, Dallas 70—thank you Nashville and Detroit!).

Now nothing here is as obvious as Canada-or-Switzerland, but if the above seeding scenario holds true, here’s the follow-up truth: Whoever takes 2nd in the Pacific division will face a more difficult opponent than the team that finishes 3rd (and it may be a difference of more than 10 points).

Now points are probably not the best measure of opposition, but still, imagine one of the Pacific trio pulls out to a sizeable lead. That would leave the other two teams with a choice of starting in Detroit, say, or Calgary. Given the choice, a coach might opt for Calgary (or at least decide that Detroit isn’t worth working your tail off for).

Now I don’t know if I have any strong point, really (neither Detroit or Calgary look to be any postseason picnic), but I think it will be extremely interesting to see what happens if a Pacific team pulls ahead in the final third of the season—will the other two teams go nuts-to-the-wall out in order to finish 2nd and play perhaps a better team? Is that sort of effort even worth it?

Or maybe, just maybe, will Swede-think take over, forcing Bettman to play the “effort assessor” card?

Like I said, just food for thought.


Sherry said...

In moments of panic during the olympics the whole seeding issue was my rationalizing for Canada getting shutout for two games in a row.

Yeah turns out they just plain ol' sucked.

Stevens8204 said...

Winning the division never became more important than in the Pacific. That is why the East is so much different...there is a separation that doesn't exist in the West.


peterboroughpete said...

"I said the Swiss, on paper, is the weakest team," Benny Gustafsson said at a postgame news conference. "I stand behind that. That's a fact."

The Sweeties got outshot 31-17 in that game...they took 4 shots in the second period...When you coach says what he said prior to the game, they threw it...Russian and the Czech's use to do it all the time...

and they had their backup goalie...

sorry had to comment on that...I understand that's not point of your post...

Earl Sleek said...

sorry had to comment on that...I understand that's not point of your post...

No, but it is very related. I guess my point, though, is that I don't begrudge the Swedes anything for losing that game--they were playing a metagame outside of what happened in those 60 minutes.

And really, my point on the Pacific is kind of bunk anyway. Really, I'm unsure any team will tank at the end (even if the rest of the seedings are set), but the possibility exists.

I guess it falls apart, though, in that there is no clear preference in starting a series in Detroit or Calgary; the Canada-Switzerland comparison definitely was an easier choice.

Mike said...

I think the primary difference between the stretch drive in the NHL, and a single game in a tournament, is that you'd find it much harder to turn the jets back on after playing multiple games at half effort. Playoffs or not, it's difficult to crank things back up like that.

As a side note, the other obvious flaw in your logic is that Vancouver will finish 1st in the Northwest.


Anonymous said...

Hey, out West I don't think you can say there is a favorable seeding. You'd rather play any of the Northwest teams over Detroit or Nashville? Are you sure? Calgary, Vancouver and Minnesota have all been playing very good lately. So has Detroit. So has Dallas. If the season were to end today, I think most teams would be hoping to see San Jose, Anaheim or Nashville because those are the three that are struggling the most right now.