This Week in Hockey East: March 4, 2010

Standings, Standings and More Standings

I’m not enough of a Hockey East historian to know whether this officially is the tightest logjam entering the final weekend of play in league history. If it’s not, I can’t imagine the math that pundits were going through in the past.

At this point in the season, the league title is up for grabs and no less than six teams are fighting for the final two home ice playoff spots and five of those six teams have yet to lock up a playoff spot!

Thus, this column, my final of the season, will be spent analyzing the craziness of the standings.

It would take a dissertation and months of research to play out every scenario, so I’m going to try to point out some of the key ones as well as some of the quirkier (like a five-way tie for fifth place?!?).

So away we go …

It’s All About Destiny… and Controlling It

With one week left to play, the optimal word around Hockey East is destiny. Every team is destined for some outcome whether it be winning a championship, getting home ice, making the playoffs or, well, hitting the golf links.

What every team does not have, though, is the ability to control such destiny.

I’ve always believed that controlling one’s own destiny late in the season in sports should be the ultimate goal. It’s that edge that propels teams — whether to championships, or simply to a postseason berth.

What’s ironic about this year’s Hockey East race (well, one of the things that’s ironic, I guess) is that every single team from first through eighth has control over some part of its playoff destiny:

• First-place New Hampshire and second-place Boston College have complete control over their destiny to win the Hockey East regular season title. Because the teams face off in a home-and-home series this weekend, and Boston College trails UNH by just three points, if either team sweeps, they capture the crown. At the same time, it’s even easier for the Wildcats as merely earning a tie in either game would give UNH the outright championship. It should be noted, as well, there cannot be co-champions.

• Both Maine and Massachusetts-Lowell control their destinies for home ice. If Maine sweeps Massachusetts or UMass-Lowell sweeps Vermont, they’d be guaranteed home ice.

• Boston University, Northeastern and Merrimack all control their playoff destinies. If any of these teams sweep, they’re guaranteed to make the playoffs.

• When it comes to destiny, though, no one controls more than Vermont does. Should the Catamounts sweep Lowell, they’d be guaranteed not only to make the playoffs, but to receive home ice in the first round as well. The Catamounts are just a point in back of the River Hawks in a three-way tie for fifth, but they also hold the tiebreaker against the other two clubs in fifth (Northeastern and BU), meaning all Vermont has to do for home ice is overtake Lowell.

The only team with playoff hopes that has no control? UMass.

The Minutemen lost control of their playoff destiny last weekend, dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to Boston College in their only game of the weekend. UMass could sweep Maine and get to 26 points in the standings but still needs help from another team to keep the teams in front of them from reaching that 26-point plateau.

Tiebreakers Galore

So that everyone is very clear, here is Hockey East’s procedure for breaking ties:

1. Head-to-Head.
2. Number of wins in conference play.
3. Best record against the first-place team(s), then the second-place team(s), then the third-place team(s), and so on.
4. Coin Flip.

If more than two teams finish in a tie, the same criteria will be applied to reduce the number of teams tied, and then the process will commence again. To understand this better, if three teams are tied, you take Team A’s combined win-loss record against Team B and Team C; Team B’s combined win-loss record against Team A and Team C; and Team C’s combined win-loss record against Team A and Team B. Comparing these against one another, you then rank the three teams. If in doing so, two teams remain tied, then, as was stated, you start the whole process again.

The most important criteria, of course, then becomes head-to-head. Here, then, are the critical head-to-head matchups entering the final weekend:

Two-Way Tiebreakers
BC wins season series vs. Maine, 2-0-1
Maine wins season series vs. UML, 2-1-0
Maine wins season series vs. NU, 2-1-0
Maine wins season series vs. UVM, 2-0-1
UML wins season series vs. NU, 2-1-0
UML wins season series vs. MC, 2-1-0
BU wins season series vs. Maine, 2-1-0
BU wins season series vs. UML, 2-1-0
BU wins season series vs. MC, 2-1-0
BU wins season series vs. UMass, 2-1-0
NU leads series vs. BU, 1-0-0
NU wins season series vs. UMass, 2-1-0
NU wins season series vs. MC, 2-1-0
UMass wins season series vs. UVM, 2-1-0
UMass wins season series vs. UML, 2-1-0
Merrimack wins season series vs. UVM, 2-0-1
Merrimack wins season series vs. UMass, 2-1-0
UVM wins season series vs. NU, 2-1-0
UVM wins season series vs. BU, 2-0-1

Some key head-to-heads to highlight:

• Northeastern’s 1-0-0 lead over Boston University this weekend means that BU would have to earn at least three points in this weekend’s series to overtake the Huskies in the standings. If Northeastern picks up two points with a win or two ties, Northeastern will be seeded ahead of BU.

• Northeastern and BU’s season series win over UMass will loom very large should the three teams finish in a three-way tie. This would happen if UMass sweeps Maine and BU and Northeastern split their weekend series. If that was the case, UMass would hold a 2-4-0 record against the field, BU would be 3-3-0 against the field and Northeastern would be 4-2-0 against the field. Thus, Northeastern would be the highest of the three, BU the middle and UMass the bottom.

Five-Way for Fifth

Believe it or not, with the jumbled standings at the bottom of the league, there is in fact a chance for a five-way tie for fifth place.

If …

• BU and NU split this weekend (either a win by both teams or two ties; we’ll assume a win by each team rather than two ties for purposes of calculations);

• UMass sweeps Maine;

• Vermont gets exactly two points from Lowell and;

• Merrimack takes exactly three points from Providence.

All five teams would end up with 26 points in a five-way tie for fifth place. So how the heck do you break a five-way tie for fifth?

According to Hockey East Media Relations Director Pete Souris, it’s quite easy. First, you determine the record of each team against the other four. The result:

• Northeastern: 7-5-0 (14 points)
• Merrimack: 6-6-0 (12 points)
• Vermont: 5-5-2 (12 points)
• Boston University: 5-6-1 (11 points)
• UMass: 5-7-0 (10 points)

Thus, you would award Northeastern the fifth seed based on the best record against the other four teams. Then? Start all over again, eliminating each of the remaining four team’s records against Northeastern. The result:

• Merrimack: 5-4-0 (10 points)
• Boston University: 4-4-1 (9 points)
• UMass: 4-5-0 (8 points)
• Vermont: 3-4-2 (8 points)

Merrimack is the winner of the four-way tie break and thus takes the sixth seed. Then, of course? We start all over again. The result:

• Vermont: 3-2-1 (7 points)
• UMass: 3-3-0 (6 points)
• Boston University: 2-3-1 (5 points)

Obviously, dropping Merrimack from the comparisons helps Vermont the most as the Catamounts were 0-2-1 against Merrimack. Thus, with seven points, Merrimack takes the seventh seed.

The final spot, then, comes down to head-to-head between BU and UMass. The Terriers won the season series, 2-1-0, against the Minutemen and thus would grab the eighth and final spot.

So, believe it or not, UMass could pull off a daunting sweep of Maine on the road, finish in a tie for fifth place, be ONE point out of home ice and STILL miss the playoffs.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem right.

One Final Interesting Note

Should Vermont earn a win against Lowell this weekend, NINE of the 10 Hockey East teams will have double digits in wins in league play. That would be a record, bettering the eight teams that reached 10 wins in 2004-05. That year’s parity meant nothing in the playoffs, though, as all four top seeds swept their quarterfinal playoff series. Don’t, though, expect that this year.

And Finally, Not That It Has Anything to Do With Anything, But …

I’m not going to say too much about the Olympics gold medal game. Certainly, both teams played very well, the ending to regulation was incredible as a U.S. fan but the eventual outcome left me thinking about what could’ve been.

I was proud of the way the U.S. played throughout the tournament and had sincere fear after their win in the round-robin against Canada that a sleeping giant had been awoken. That certainly was the case.

The gold medal game certainly goes down in infamy. And also makes me long for 2014.

On another hockey-related note, I’m sure there are a decent number of Boston Bruins fans who read this column. I’m probably not the only one who stands a little disappointed after Wednesday’s trade deadline. Here was an opportunity for GM Peter Chiarelli to make a statement that he believes this team has a chance, but by not finding a legitimate scorer or any type of players with Stanley Cup experience, I think the B’s have thrown up their hands and surrendered.

Maybe this team can rally, but, truth be told, I think this is going to be a playoff-bubble team that will be playing golf before May 1.


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