Time for the NHL to Ditch the Point System

Loser points are pointless

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NHL Executives
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (right) with Deputy Commissioner Bill Day (Left)

It is time for the NHL to move away from a point-based system, and towards a simple win-or-lose model. For as long as I can remember, the league and its pundits have searched exhaustively for ways to improve the game. Some of these means have been more radical than others, whereas some were simply slight adjustments to existing systems. Whatever those ideas have ended up being, they have all had the same end-state โ€“ an attempt to improve the NHL.

From the early 1990s up until the 2003-2004 season, the NHL found itself mired in a period of time known as the dead puck era. This period of time was punctuated by a drop in scoring around the league. Defensive strategies took hold and were bolstered by loosening standards on interference related infractions. A number of conditions combined to create the talent vacuum that the NHL found itself in during these years. Skyrocketing salaries created a massive talent disparity between the have and the have-not teams. The league also added eight new teams during the decade which further dispersed the talent pool.

After the free-for-all that was the 1980s, NHL coaches moved towards a more defensive style of hockey. This allowed them to combat any talent issues that may be present, and drastically brought down scoring league wide. The neutral zone trap gained notoriety during this period of time. Defensively, it allowed teams to clog up the neutral zone and force opponents to dump the puck into the offensive zone. It helped neutralize the ability of skilled players to have a drastic impact on the game.

In 2005, the NHL reinvented itself following a lockout that cancelled the entire previous season. As the first professional North American sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute, the NHL had a lot to atone for.


The NHLย returns

The NHL came out of the lockout with a number of rule changes, but I will avoid touching on them all right now. The overall intent was to eliminate how effective the neutral zone trap was, to increase scoring, and to eliminate ties by introducing shootouts. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss the latter part of those changes, and bring it back around to support my central point.

I do not believe the NHL truly thought out the impact that shootouts would have on the league. It is an effective, but highly flawed, way to decide a winner. Ties were frustrating as a fan, and I am still in favor of removing them. Even if I do hate shootouts, I like getting a tangible outcome from a game. Both teams getting a participation point at the end of a tied game is mundane, but at least it is not as backwards as being awarded a point for losing the game.


Keep it simple, stupid

I have seen people suggest that the league update its point system by changing to a three-point system. Briefly: Three points are available every game, but only a team that wins in regulation receives all three points. If the game goes to overtime then the current modelโ€™s loser point is still awarded, but the winner only takes home two points. By being awarded more points for winning in regulation, you would encourage teams to avoid overtime. I like this model a lot more than I like the current model, but I think it needlessly complicates things for the casual fan, and it sidesteps the sensible solution.

I believe that the league should simply use a win-or-lose model. You either win the game or you lose the game. What you would see in sports like basketball and baseball.

Standings right now are not very likely to show us how things would change under a new system because teams play differently depending on the way things are recorded. With that in mind, it can still be interesting to look at.

Here is how the Eastern Conference would look as of February 17th:

I have left teamsโ€™ current point totals as a reference, and this table does not account for differences in games played, so the information we could gleam from that is not available. I do not think this is predictive of how things would look in seasons actually using this system, but I use this information only as anecdotal evidence that playoff races would remain tight among the less accomplished teams.

Teams would no longer play out the third period comfortable with settling for the loser point. We would see less games go to overtime, and by extension more games would be battled out in regulation. People who despise shootouts would see less of them, and people who are sick of garbage teams benefiting from losing would no longer have to deal with it. The parity in the league would continue to exist, but well built teams would stand out even more. Games within the division and conference would still remain the most important due to tie-breakers, but every win would have a tangible impact within the standings. You would no longer be frustrated by seeing your favorite team win in regulation only to have rival teams stay close because they lost in overtime.

If nothing else, the win-loss model is something to consider, and until the NHL decides to make a change in the current system, it is only conjecture as to how beneficial it might be to the league and its fans. I do hope that the NHL decides to make a change, and if that decision is made, I hope it is a move towards this win/loss system.

45 COMMENTS

  1. cinnamon

    How does the three point system complicates thing for the casual fan?

    I just don't think people are very smart.

    I also think using wins and losses does the exact same thing and is the more standard measure people in North America are used to.

  2. owa

    I just don't think people are very smart.

    I also think using wins and losses does the exact same thing and is the more standard measure people in North America are used to.

    In Europe we have no problems with 3 points system and I don't think people here are much smarter than in North America ๐Ÿ™‚

    As you say, I think it's more a matter of getting used to it. I can imagine people here having problems with getting used to 2 points system too. In fact, I even can partially understand to an argument that it doesn't make sense to distribute two points in most games but three in some games.

  3. cinnamon

    In Europe we have no problems with 3 points system and I don't think people here are much smarter than in North America ๐Ÿ™‚

    As you say, I think it's more a matter of getting used to it. I can imagine people here having problems with getting used to 2 points system too. In fact, I even can partially understand to an argument that it doesn't make sense to distribute two points in most games but three in some games.

    Some North American hockey fans did vote for Trump…

    It is totally just a preference thing. I prefer a 3 point system over the current one, but I'd rather it just be a wins and losses system. I think I really just hate the idea of handing out loser points in general. If losing in OT or a shootout gets you nothing at all then I think it solves the same problem that using a 3 point system is attempting to get rid of.

  4. ZMaster32

    Wrong. :p

    Do you really think so? ๐Ÿ™‚

    owa

    Some North American hockey fans did vote for Trump…

    It is totally just a preference thing. I prefer a 3 point system over the current one, but I'd rather it just be a wins and losses system. I think I really just hate the idea of handing out loser points in general. If losing in OT or a shootout gets you nothing at all then I think it solves the same problem that using a 3 point system is attempting to get rid of.

    Well we have a terrible president too ๐Ÿ˜‰ Now I'm not sure how many of his voters were hockey fans but surely there must have been some.

    I don't see the one point as being awarded for losing but to distinguish between "bigger" and "smaller" loss. Which is also the "disadvantage" wins/losses system has (comparing to 3 points system) IMO. But as you say, it's very much a matter of personal preference.

  5. I agree with the premiss of the argument, but in my opinion, the NHL LOVES the system they have in place. They may never give a definitive YES or NO as to if they think it works, but what i believe they LOVE is the fact that with the current system EVERY market has a chance (insert Lloyd Christmas "so you're saying there's a chance") to feel like they're in a playoff race.

    Parity.

    The catch phrase loved so much by the NFL has since been adopted by the NHL. I mean as of right now the TBL sit in second last in the Atlantic Division and yet are only 10 pts back of first place MTL. 10 points! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ That basically a week long heater and a week long drought simultaneously and poof that lead is almost all but gone. Especially with the NHL's compressed schedule this season.

    Anywho, i'm rambling… Loved the article! I just think the NHL loves what they got just as much ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Slomo76

    I agree with the premiss of the argument, but in my opinion, the NHL LOVES the system they have in place. They may never give a definitive YES or NO as to if they think it works, but what i believe they LOVE is the fact that with the current system EVERY market has a chance (insert Lloyd Christmas "so you're saying there's a chance") to feel like they're in a playoff race.

    Parity.

    The catch phrase loved so much by the NFL has since been adopted by the NHL. I mean as of right now the TBL sit in second last in the Atlantic Division and yet are only 10 pts back of first place MTL. 10 points! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ That basically a week long heater and a week long drought simultaneously and poof that lead is almost all but gone. Especially with the NHL's compressed schedule this season.

    Anywho, i'm rambling… Loved the article! I just think the NHL loves what they got just as much ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Hahaha I agree with you 100%

    Stupid NHL and thanks for reading!

  7. owa

    owa submitted a new blog post

    Time for the NHL to Ditch the Point System

    [​IMG]

    It is time for the NHL to move away from a point-based system, and towards a simple win-or-lose model. For as long as I can remember, the league and its pundits have searched exhaustively for ways to improve the game. Some of these means have been more radical than others, whereas some were simply slight adjustments to existing systems. Whatever those ideas have ended up being, they have all had the same end-state โ€“ an attempt to improve the NHL.

    From the early 1990s up until the 2003-2004 season, the NHL found itself mired in a period of time known as the dead puck era. This period of time was punctuated by a drop in scoring around the league. Defensive strategies took hold and were bolstered by loosening standards on interference related infractions. A number of conditions combined to create the talent vacuum that the NHL found itself in during these years. Skyrocketing salaries created a massive talent disparity between the have and the have-not teams. The league also added eight new teams during the decade which further dispersed the talent pool.

    After the free-for-all that was the 1980s, NHL coaches moved towards a more defensive style of hockey. This allowed them to combat any talent issues that may be present, and drastically brought down scoring league wide. The neutral zone trap gained notoriety during this period of time. Defensively, it allowed teams to clog up the neutral zone and force opponents to dump the puck into the offensive zone. It helped neutralize the ability of skilled players to have a drastic impact on the game.

    In 2005, the NHL reinvented itself following a lockout that cancelled the entire previous season. As the first professional North American sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute, the NHL had a lot to atone for.

    The NHL returns

    The NHL came out of the lockout with a number of rule changes, but I will avoid touching on them all right now. The overall intent was to eliminate how effective the neutral zone trap was, to increase scoring, and to eliminate ties by introducing shootouts. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss the latter part of those changes, and bring it back around to support my central point.

    I do not believe the NHL truly thought out the impact that shootouts would have on the league. It is an effective, but highly flawed, way to decide a winner. Ties were frustrating as a fan, and I am still in favor of removing them. Even if I do hate shootouts, I like getting a tangible outcome from a game. Both teams getting a participation point at the end of a tied game is mundane, but at least it is not as backwards as being awarded a point for losing the game.

    Keep it simple, stupid

    I have seen people suggest that the league update its point system by changing to a three-point system. Briefly: Three points are available every game, but only a team that wins in regulation receives all three points. If the game goes to overtime then the current modelโ€™s loser point is still awarded, but the winner only takes home two points. By being awarded more points for winning in regulation, you would encourage teams to avoid overtime. I like this model a lot more than I like the current model, but I think it needlessly complicates things for the casual fan, and it sidesteps the sensible solution.

    I believe that the league should simply use a win-or-lose model. You either win the game or you lose the game. What you would see in sports like basketball and baseball.

    Standings right now are not very likely to show us how things would change under a new system because teams play differently depending on the way things are recorded. With that in mind, it can still be interesting to look at.

    Here is how the Eastern Conference would look as of February 17th:

    [​IMG]

    I have left teamsโ€™ current point totals as a reference, and this table does not account for differences in games played, so the information we could gleam from that is not available. I do not think this is predictive of how things would look in seasons actually using this system, but I use this information only as anecdotal evidence that playoff races would remain tight among the less accomplished teams.

    Teams would no longer play out the third period comfortable with settling for the loser point. We would see less games go to overtime, and by extension more games would be battled out in regulation. People who despise shootouts would see less of them, and people who are sick of garbage teams benefiting from losing would no longer have to deal with it. The parity in the league would continue to exist, but well built teams would stand out even more. Games within the division and conference would still remain the most important due to tie-breakers, but every win would have a tangible impact within the standings. You would no longer be frustrated by seeing your favorite team win in regulation only to have rival teams stay close because they lost in overtime.

    If nothing else, the win-loss model is something to consider, and until the NHL decides to make a change in the current system, it is only conjecture as to how beneficial it might be to the league and its fans. I do hope that the NHL decides to make a change, and if that decision is made, I hope it is a move towards this win/loss system.
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.

    I'm confused as to why your win percentages aren't in order.

    I'm not opposed to a straight W/L system, but I do think there can be a "quality" of win/loss taken into account when determining placement. While the idea of goal differential can partially account for that, the idea of weighting outcomes would add to that. I kind of like the idea of 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an OT/SO win, 1 point for an OT/SO loss, and 0 points for a regulation loss. That gives teams an incentive to win in regulation (and thereby encourage offense, but also recognizes that there is a difference between a 3-0 win and a 3-2 OT win.

    Maybe it's not the best way…I mean, a 3-2 regulation win would give 3/0 points, which looks like a big gap, even though it might be a close game. Point differential, of course, would mitigate that somewhat, though.

  8. erikthered

    I'm confused as to why your win percentages aren't in order.

    I'm not opposed to a straight W/L system, but I do think there can be a "quality" of win/loss taken into account when determining placement. While the idea of goal differential can partially account for that, the idea of weighting outcomes would add to that. I kind of like the idea of 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an OT/SO win, 1 point for an OT/SO loss, and 0 points for a regulation loss. That gives teams an incentive to win in regulation (and thereby encourage offense, but also recognizes that there is a difference between a 3-0 win and a 3-2 OT win.

    Maybe it's not the best way…I mean, a 3-2 regulation win would give 3/0 points, which looks like a big gap, even though it might be a close game. Point differential, of course, would mitigate that somewhat, though.

    I originally went back and sorted out the last five years of records to account for wins and losses only, but after doing that work I kind of decided it wouldn't have effectively shown anything because teams play differently depending on the situation (adjustment for score but on a larger scale). I haphazardly threw together this seasons records. I think of it more as something fun to look at – not indicative of much right now.

    I think other sports use wins and losses only and it works just fine. Baseball doesn't give you extra games based on innings played and I don't think they should. Teams play an extra 5 minutes and go to a shootout. Neither of those things deserve a reward in my eyes.

    I understand the idea behind giving teams a point for battling out a game into extra time, but I don't agree with it. That is really all it boils down to. I think it creates defensive slogs and teams settle for playing out a tie so they at least get a point. A 3 point system fixes that, but so does just using wins and losses.

    Thanks for reading and replying. I'll continue to work on my persuasion and writing skills!

  9. owa

    I originally went back and sorted out the last five years of records to account for wins and losses only, but after doing that work I kind of decided it wouldn't have effectively shown anything because teams play differently depending on the situation (adjustment for score but on a larger scale). I haphazardly threw together this seasons records. I think of it more as something fun to look at – not indicative of much right now.

    I think other sports use wins and losses only and it works just fine. Baseball doesn't give you extra games based on innings played and I don't think they should. Teams play an extra 5 minutes and go to a shootout. Neither of those things deserve a reward in my eyes.

    I understand the idea behind giving teams a point for battling out a game into extra time, but I don't agree with it. That is really all it boils down to. I think it creates defensive slogs and teams settle for playing out a tie so they at least get a point. A 3 point system fixes that, but so does just using wins and losses.

    Just for arguments sake–the NFL does allow for ties, and while they're rare, it complicates the playoff race by throwing a third factor into the W/L % model. Also, the NBA and MLB use a system of indefinite gameplay; that is to say that they'll keep adding regular gameplay indefinitely until a winner is determined by a team leading at the end of that timeframe. The NHL does this for playoffs, but doing that during the regular season is impractical. As such, using those leagues as examples doesn't exactly fit the NHL model of determining W/L.

  10. erikthered

    Just for arguments sake–the NFL does allow for ties, and while they're rare, it complicates the playoff race by throwing a third factor into the W/L % model. Also, the NBA and MLB use a system of indefinite gameplay; that is to say that they'll keep adding regular gameplay indefinitely until a winner is determined by a team leading at the end of that timeframe. The NHL does this for playoffs, but doing that during the regular season is impractical. As such, using those leagues as examples doesn't exactly fit the NHL model of determining W/L.

    The NHL does not do this in the playoffs. Playoffs are still sudden death.

    I know how the overtime formats work in other leagues. Makes me feel like those leagues would benefit more from a point system than the NHL does. 2 extra quarters of basketball should be worth a point at least!

  11. owa

    The NHL does not do this in the playoffs. Playoffs are still sudden death.

    I know how the overtime formats work in other leagues. Makes me feel like thoae leagues would benefit more from a point system than the NHL does. 2 extra quarters of basketball should be worth a point at least!

    Yes, but they go on indefinitely until a goal is scored. That's really what I was going for. The frequent-scoring nature of basketball is not conducive to sudden death, nor is the turn-based nature of baseball.

  12. erikthered

    Yes, but they go on indefinitely until a goal is scored. That's really what I was going for. The frequent-scoring nature of basketball is not conducive to sudden death, nor is the turn-based nature of baseball.

    I'm not sure how you got on the subject of sudden death in those leagues. But I agree with you, it wouldn't work.

    I am in favour of eliminating the loser point.

    Would rather continuous OT but that won't happen. You can elaborate on that if you want.

  13. erikthered

    Just for arguments sake–the NFL does allow for ties, and while they're rare, it complicates the playoff race by throwing a third factor into the W/L % model. Also, the NBA and MLB use a system of indefinite gameplay; that is to say that they'll keep adding regular gameplay indefinitely until a winner is determined by a team leading at the end of that timeframe. The NHL does this for playoffs, but doing that during the regular season is impractical. As such, using those leagues as examples doesn't exactly fit the NHL model of determining W/L.

    you do realize that 5 minute OT + indefinite shootout is also a system of indefinite gameplay, right? NHL games do not end until one team walks away victorious. so that kind of throws a wrench in your works.

  14. I have thought about the 3 point system for a long time now. I think it may actually change the way the game is played. And I know the NHL loves parity, but let's look at the scenario in the East where the last place team is 10 points back. That is only 3 wins and 3 losses verses 5 wins and 5 losses. That makes the standing easier to adjust and therefore includes even more teams in the hunt for the cup.

    The thing that drives me nuts about the regular season is that my season has absolutely no bearing on my playoff chances of winning. Sorry that is confusing, but let's say I make the playoffs with 95 points. I end with 25 wins in reg, 18 in SO or OT, and 9 OTL or SOL. So really I only had 25 wins at 5 on 5. Now the playoffs come and all of a sudden my "special" skills are no longer a factor because all playoff games are 5 on 5 with no shootouts or 3 on 3 OT. That clearly puts this team at a disadvantage where a team that maybe won 35 games in reg but is terrible at 3 on 3 or shootouts may have a better shot at the cup. I think a 3 point system helps to stop this.

  15. speels

    let's look at the scenario in the East where the last place team is 10 points back. That is only 3 wins and 3 losses verses 5 wins and 5 losses.

    Not that it's the most important thing but would it still be 10 points with the three point system?

  16. If OT was a 20 minute 5 on 5 sudden death period I would be all in favour of a tie. Still drop points, but allow ties (think NFL).

    I would probably be okay with ties for 10 min OT periods but I would want that played at 3 on 3 heh. Regardless of ties coming back I think OT should be 10 minutes long.

    Basically I want ties to be rare and just fuck with winning percentages.

    Pleased to see so much discussion. Been a while since we have really talked about shit!

  17. Interesting blog post!

    Y'know when I was a kid and NHL games ended in ties, I pretty much had mixed feelings. It was basically that 'unfinished business' feeling. So when NHL decided to change to OT and shootouts to make sure every game had a winner, along with this point for both teams to even make it to OT, I was okay with it. It was nice to finally see a win or a loss every game, even if it meant my favourite teams lost.

    But, having had this OT-point-for-all system in the NHL for a while now, I think I'm coming around to the idea that going back to W-L-T system wouldn't be so bad. If they kept the 3 on 3 OT it could still cut down on the number games ending in a tie.

    Sure, teams could try and play more defensive to preserve the tie point in 3 on 3 but that is much harder to do than with 4 on 4 or 5 on 5.

    If they do change systems it's gonna be rough on fans. Not in a way they can't get over but it'll be a hard transition when your team is on the losing end most of the times. If you are one of those teams that keeps tying games but losing in OT and you get no points for it. It'll be hard to take, but… well, face it, it does mean maybe your team just isn't as gritty and/or fortunate as they need to be to be in a better position in the standings.

    I'm not sure parity will be as good as it is now, though. This is why I don't think NHL is rushing to do this change any time soon.

  18. Foxwillow

    it warms my heart to see people saying yes to ties

    W-L would be fine
    but also so would W-L-T

    all other point systems with free points are dumb

    I never understood why so many people had issues with ties. I only support the 3/2/1/0 point system if we're not going to have ties. Hell, make it 3 points for regulation win, 2 points for OT win, 1 point for tie, 0 points for all losses…

  19. ZMaster32

    Just murder the shootout altogether. Trash way to end a game. :p

    I regret only having one "like" to give to this post.

    dkp

    Good read, I honestly think the 5 minute OT resulting in a tie should return, being the tiebreaker for teams that have the same amount of wins.

    EXACTLY!!!

  20. Very Good read. I like the idea of the three point system, but there is one concern. Teams will be reluctant to go for the 3 point win if the game is tied because they do not want to make an error and give the other team 3 points and they get nothing. If the system provides three points for an overtime win and one point for an OT loss, I like that idea too.

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