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The Five for Howling Roundtable - Jockeying for Position

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Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans.  After a brief hiatus the Roundtable is back.  In this edition, the Five For Howling staff, including our two newbies, Paul and Ben, does a bit of forecasting.  We look at how many point it might take to get into the playoffs, how many points may be needed to gain home ice advantage,  head shots in the NHL, and whether possible forthcoming rules changes could significantly alter the game in terms of physical play.

In the MLK Day Edition of the Roundtable back in January, we spoke about how many points four of us thought it would take to reach the playoffs.  With teams having 14 or less games left in the season we felt it is time to revisit the issue. Looking at where the Western Conference stands today, how many points do you believe will be necessary for the Coyotes to make the playoffs? 

Paul:  I think that the number will be 95.  As the teams continue to play each other, the sorting will take care of itself.  

Jordan:  I'm still leaning towards 95 points getting you into the dance. That means if the Coyotes roll out these last 12 games at .500, they will be right at that number.

Carl:  I'm sticking with my original pick of 93.

Travis:  95 is looking like the cutoff. Coyotes don't have far to get there either. 5 wins out of the last 11 games? Seems a lock.

Ben:  96 points, or .500 hockey from here on out.

How points will be necessary to gain home ice advantage for the first round?

Paul:  This is a little more difficult to pinpoint.  Based on the tight race in the Pacific Division, I would say between 104 - 108 would be the range to gain home ice advantage.

Jordan:  Here, I think it's going to be closer to 100 or maybe even 102. Although not outside the realm of reason, this will be a bit more difficult...100 points will require a final run of 8-3-1. Definitely doable, and if the team can end the season at an 11-3-2 clip, that would be the type of hockey I want to see them playing going into the postseason.

Carl:  I think it will be somewhere in 100-102 range, so I'll go 101.

Travis:  Probably closer to 100. It'll be about as easy to unseat the Sharks though with three games against them near the end of the season.

Ben:  102 Points, by my calculations, puts us in 3rd or 4th.

What should the league do in legislating head shots?

Paul:  There are two issues: boarding/blindside hits, and regular hockey plays.  If it's a hit from behind and a guy gets boarded, the on ice punishment should be more severe.  If it's a regular hockey play, then the issue becomes more complicated for me.  

It is clear that we are losing more players due to shots to the head than before.  There have been many theories (equipment, speed, recklessness, all of the above).  One idea could be that if a penalty is called (elbowing) and that elbow aimed for the head, then tacking on an additional penalty.  If a player has more of these type of penalties called against him, then the league office could add suspensions.  I just don't want a player to get penalized if he checks another player who has his head down and the purpose of the check was to gain possession of the puck, especially if the checker couldn't slow up in time.  

Jordan:  I'm not sure they need to do anything more to legislate head shots. The rules are in place and they give the league the flexibility to make the punishments as appropriate to fit the crime here. The unfortunate aspect is that the league is so inconsistent that they aren't providing the guidance necessary to be effective. First things first, the league needs to legislate the act and not the outcome. I think the Zdeno Chara hit is actually an excellent example of them doing this in one direction, however it is far more importaZdeno nt to do it in the other way. They need to start suspending players for the dangerous hits that (thankfully) haven't resulted in a serious injury and maybe were not even called a penalty. There will be a bit of backlash and players will need to adjust how they play (as they did post-lockout with the removal of the clutch/grab style), but that's the only real way I see the league improving in this area.

Carl: They need to outlaw head shots and be clear by what they mean.  I know GM's are loathe to do so for the same reasons I have concerns about the NFL's headshot policy.  They don't want guys getting penalties and suspensions for physical plays that result in guys accidentally either hitting a guy in the head or the head becoming involving due to the physics of the play.  I think you make a plain determination that any play where a guy deliberating brings his stick or elbow up and have contact with the head is a penalty.  It's not perfect, but it may have the long term desired outcome of reducing injuries.

Travis:  It's hard to say what direction this should go in. I do want the headshots taken out of the game and think that if you do hit in the head that it should be a penalty regardless of intent or not. Like high sticking there's no intent the majority of the time, but it's still a penalty. Like the Commissioner and other people around the league have said though, the majority of concussions don't come from blatant head shots, they come from body checks and other plays that force the head around. The only way to stop them is to stop hitting at all and I don't think anyone wants that. Maybe switching helmet designs and equipment can be a factor too.

Ben:  I would propose a three strikes and you're out type rule: First non-incidental head shot, three game suspension. Second, six game suspension. Third, twelve game to season suspension (depending on the severity/results of the previous hits). To better protect the players from these types of hits the league has to, fix the helmets. Right now the current helmet technology is no better than a Home Depot paint bucket with a chin strap.

Will potential NHL rule changes remove the physicality of the game?

Paul:  If the NHL plans on banning all head shots, then some players could second guess their actions and the game would become less physical.  If they tweak the rules using the context of the play in mind when legislating hits, then the physical aspect of the game would be cleaner and safer for the players.  Changing equipment might be a viable option.

Jordan:  I don't think so. There has to be basic respect between the players and I think that is capable without removing all physicality. The hit on Kris Letang the other day is a perfect example of a big, legal hit that absolutely belongs in the game - and the players should know to look for a hit like that where the player is squared up to you and you are keeping your arms low. What will (and should) be gone are the hits where guys try to subtly get their elbows up into a guy's head and the hits from behind. Those players that specialize in those hits will get the message quickly if the league starts to legislate the act and gets consistent about it.

Carl:  Depending on what rule changes the league implements down the road the answer could be anywhere from "no, not at all" to "to a degree, yes".  IT all depends on what the rules are and their intended and unintended consequences.  Keep in mind for instance that many didn't foresee the fact that by cracking down on obstruction it opened up the game for more hitting.

Travis:  Maybe a little. I would like for the physicality as it related to chasing down those icing plays like we saw against Rostislav Klesla on Tuesday. Those kinds of things are just unnecessary. How often do the defensive players get there when it's that close? Not often. I'm not sure we need to go to no-touch icing but something to make the icing teams' guy let up instead of running guys. Hockey wouldn't be quite the same without the hitting.

Ben:  I don't think so, the GMs and players know what fans want; physical, end-to-end action. I think the league has struck a good delicate balance between physicality and protecting players.