The NHL Could Learn Something From The U.S. Elections

Chances of seeing the Stanley Cup

Today marks the end of the gruelling campaign for the presidency of the United States. However, unlike an NHL season (remember those?), the winner of this campaign will actually have a very good chance of seeing the Stanley Cup. Multiple times, even.

If only it was that easy for the Presidents’ Trophy winner. Sigh.

But I guess winning the Presidents’ Trophy is very prestigious just in and of itself. I mean, you not only get the Trophy and a guarantee of two, maybe three home games in the playoffs, but the NHL even has a separate web page to recognize the winners…oh for God’s sake.

Anyway, sharing a name for the ultimate prize (oh shut up and just go with it) is not the only thing in common between the NHL and the U.S. political system…

The first thing you notice when comparing the two is that both the NHL and the U.S. have senators. The U.S. Senate is usually seen as one of the stepping stones to getting into Presidential politics. In fact, current U.S. President Barack Obama came out of the Senate.

However, if you look back over the course of the last few Presidential elections you’ll soon realize that while the senators in the race show a lot of early promise, they usually tend to choke when it really matters:

Senators tend to choke

So, it turns out that senators like John Kerry, John Edwards, John McCain…hey, wait a minute, do you have to be a John to sit in the Senate? Er, on second thought, don’t answer that…where was I? oh yeah, Al Gore, Bob Dole, etc. have quite a bit more in common with the Ottawa Senators than just their name.

The U.S. Senate is also a lot like the NHL in terms of its basic structure. Essentially, it is made up of (mostly) a bunch of rich white guys that despite all of their prestige and influence can’t really get anything done:

Fillibuster proof

Yes, somehow the rich white guys in charge of the U.S. Senate and the rich white guys in charge of the NHL have both managed to come up with rules that undermine the power and influence that their wealth should command. In essence, they have hand-cuffed themselves…oh, wait, maybe there was something to that John theory after all.

Anyway, this is a family blog, so I better move on.

One of the key issues in this Presidential election has been the accuracy of the polling that has taken place both at the national and local state levels. If you’ve looked at the polls at all, you’ve probably noticed that some of them are done by a polling firm known as PPP. This, of course, confused the heck out of me since the hockey world also has a PPP.

My first thought was that maybe our friends over at Pension Plan Puppets had ventured into the political arena as a less cynical and depressing alternative to following the Toronto Maple Leafs. But that turns out not to have been the case. Instead, PPP is a reference to Public Policy Polling, a firm that in the past has asked some off-beat questions, like what is God’s approval rating? So while it is easy to mistake these two outfits, there is a subtle difference if you look closely enough:

PPP questions God

Full disclosure here, I am very much on record as also questioning the hockey gods.

But back to the election polls. There were many pundits that questioned the accuracy of the polls, mainly because the state level polls have consistently shown that Obama will likely win enough electoral votes to take Presidency, while the national polls have shown a much closer race for the popular vote. 

Now, anyone who actually did the math would come to the same conclusion as Nate Silver over at or any of the other poll watchers. However, just like in hockey and other sports, this election has become another skirmish in "the longer-term war between traditional political reporting and the rise of the nerds." That war is being fought everywhere, except in Minnesota, where math does not exist when it contradicts common sense:

Political wilderness

So just as happened in baseball, and is now happening in hockey, the political experts and pundits, who have traditionally wielded power and influence are now having to deal with the upstart nerds and bloggers that are questioning and undermining their authority. So for pundits of all stripes, all of a sudden, life is hard, and so is math: 

Math is hard

I need to add one more thing here. If you wander over the seedy side of Twitter, you’re bound to run across wingnuts that say things like this:

The strange thing is, that even an actual monkey might make better decisions than any of the pundits and talking heads that racist clowns like this listen to. It turns out that political pundits, especially on the conservative end of the spectrum, have trouble beating a coin flip when it comes to making predictions. Math is indeed hard.

So if you’re not from Minnesota, and the math is to be believed, Obama has an overwhelming probability of eeking out a victory tonight. However, the one thing that math can’t fix is elections that are fixed. So while the polls are very consistent in pointing to an Obama victory, the big question remains whether vote suppression efforts will have a significant impact on the results. Unlike in the NHL, vote blocking matters:

Vote blocking

Many of the more blatant voter suppression ID laws were successfully challenged  in court before the voting started. But this has not prevented other efforts, including, unbelievably, things like this:



If tactics such as this are successful enough, the entire election could once again wind up being contested in the U.S. Supreme Court. This, of course, should not be confused with the NHL’s version of dressing up in black:

Back in black

As a sidebar (get it?), the Supreme Court is part of the system of checks and balances built into in the U.S. political system. These checks and balances are fixed in the Constitution and would require an ammendement in order to be changed. This is quite a bit different than in the NHL, where locked out players are finding out that the relationship between checks and balances isn’t the same as it used to be:

Checks and bank balances

This brings us back to the NHL lockout. As we’ve seen above, there are definitely some similarities between the NHL and the U.S. political system. However, there is one more glaring difference, and this is something that perhaps the NHL can learn from and adopt into their own system:

 Fixed lockout dates

The only thing the NHL is missing is the fixed time frame! We’re almost there. We have a lockout every seven years or so. But even then, sometimes they last until Christmas, other times they last all year. It’s just such a pain to have to deal with the uncertainty.

So my request is that the NHL just settle on a time frame between lockouts and set a date for when it will be over. Let us avoid the melodrama, focus groups, PR strategists, leaks, counter-leaks and general spin. In short, save us the kabuki theatre.

Let’s say the lockout will take place every seven years and end on the first Monday in December. That way fans, owners, players, reporters, everyone, can all work around it and find better things to do with our time than wonder if Steve Fehr and Bill Daly got to second base on their date on Saturday night.

And you thought the U.S. elections were a waste of time and money.