Interesting rule could make for good first-round story line, but probably won’t. #MOLLiga #Hockey #playoffs

25 Feb

I am one full season in to a small European Hockey league and I am still getting surprised by the rules.  I read a post today from (Hungarian Ice Hockey blog) about the first seeded playoff team being able to pick their first round opponent.

This strikes me as odd, just because I have never heard of such a rule before.  Supposedly, if my Google Translate is working properly, other European leagues have a similar rule.  So, this rule is not unique to the MOL Liga.  However, I am thinking of the impact (or lack thereof) of such a rule in the MOL Liga specifically.

In this league, only four teams make the playoffs.  The first place team will likely choose the team they have the best chance of beating to get into the championship round.  In a regular seeding format, the best team gets to play the worst seeded playoff team; thus, this choice occurs automatically.  In some situations, maybe the fourth seeded team has had your number all season and you have a better chance at beating a higher seeded team in the first round and you want to take your chances in the championship round.  You’re hope then is that the other team can beat the team you are worried about.

But look, it’s the playoffs.  You are going to have to play a competitive team at some point.  You’re team is going to have to travel.  Sure, winning the championship is most important and if there is a little something you can do to give you a competitive advantage, then sure, go for it.

The interesting thing to me with this rule in a four team playoff is that you essentially choose your competitors first-round match-up.  That could be interesting if you think you could knock off your biggest challenge for the next round by making a choice for yourself.

Alright, here is a first-round playoff preview based on possible choices by DAB Docler, this season’s best regular season team.  If we had a normal seeding system, the first-round playoff matchups would be (assuming nothing crazy happens in today’s last set of matchups):

Scenario 1:

(1) DAB Docler v. (4) ASC Corona Brasov
(2) Miskolc Jegesmedvek v. (3) HSC Csikszereda

So, there is a good chance DAB takes Brasso by choice, making the above scenario reality.  This means the “choose your own team rule” was pointless and that seeding is the better way to go….at least in a season where DAB was way on top the entire season.

Advantages:  Potentially only one travel game to Romania for the playoffs if they can take care of business.  DAB has no good option for the Miskolc v. Csikszereda matchup.  If Miskolc wins, DAB has the more difficult matchup in the championship round.  If Csikszereda wins, then you have two rounds of travelling to Romania.  Travel versus opponent difficulty?  I take difficulty….it’s the playoffs and you’ve earned home ice.  Keep your guys comfortable in your city and in your arena.  For that reason, the regular seeding or Brasso choice would be smart.

Disadvantages:  Brasso is on fire.  Maybe the best goalkeeper in the league and the North American’s have been lighting up the score sheet.  DAB has been resting their big guns for the past couple weeks.  Do you take the chance of taking on the streaky team with potentially rusty guys?  I believe the away team gets the first home game, meaning this series could get interesting if Brasso steals the first game.

Scenario 2:

(1) DAB Docler v. (2) Miskolc Jegesmedvek
(3) HSC Csikszereda v. (4) ASC Corona Brasov

Advantages:  If I were DAB, this would be my choice.  You’ve been the best team in the league all season.  Take out the best team.  Give yourself the least amount of travel in the first round and if you win you ensure only one travel match, arguably against an easier team.  Also, this gives the Romanian fans some a rivalry opportunity in the first round.  I really think Brasso and Csikszereda could go either way too, so there is a better opportunity of two really good first round matchups….I think this is something the league could use.

Disadvantages:  Conventional wisdom would say you are tempting fate.  You rested your players for two or three weeks and now you are asking to play an opponent who has scored as much as you have and are the league’s second best team.  Maybe getting them after a first-round warm-up makes more sense.

Scenario 3:

(1) DAB Docler v. (3) HSC Csikszereda
(2) Miskolc Jegesmedvek v. (4) ASC Corona Brasov

Advantages:  DAB has dominated everyone all season–they should win this match.  You also put the hottest team up against your most challenging opponent.  Either way, you knock off a potential championship round stumbling block.

Disadvantages:  You might give yourself two rounds of travelling to Romania.

Again, if I were DAB, I would take Miskolc in the first round.  If you can’t beat them now, you’re not going to beat them in the next round.  You ensure only one round of travelling and a championship round against one of the two lower seeded teams.

But, my bet is they pick the fourth seeded team, currently Brasso.  This is why this rule makes little sense in a four team playoff format.  I imagine the best team will always pick the worse team for the best shot to the championship round.  Again, maybe if the teams in the league were a lot closer competitively then this could make a difference.


***Post update***

I learned after this original post that tiebreakers in MOL Liga go by the following rules:

“Ranking of the teams:

  1. upon the total points received
  2. in case of equal total points: upon the points received on direct matches against each other
  3. in case of equal points received on direct matches: upon the goal difference on the direct matches
  4. in case of equal goal difference on the direct matches: upon the more goals scored on the direct matches
  5. In case of equal goals scored on the direct matches: upon the goal difference of the whole season
  6. In case of the goal difference of the season is equal: upon the more goals scored during the whole season

This means ASC Corona Brasov was actually the odd team out and needed help from Nove Zamky to make it into the playoffs, because Nove Zamky had the better head-to-head record.  That did not happen and Nove Zamky took the fourth seed.  This too is an odd rule for hockey and for European sports.  Yet, I like this rule a lot.  I now too am happy for the best team-first round choice rule….

Redeeming myself, DAB Docler took my advice and chose Miskolc for the second round.  Though there will not be an all-Romanian MOL Liga first round matchup, the rest of my reasoning stands.  They keep themselves to only having to leave the country for one round, if they beat Miskolc.  They give us something really good to watch in the first round.  We will also get to see if resting their top players for the past few weeks will have any effect on DAB’s dominating season.

Here is the final standings on the season:



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