The NHL point system is flawed and should see the Leafs in the playoffs

What should have happened this year (right banner)

Much has been made about the NHL’s point system and it’s flaws in the past. A third point is awarded once two teams reach overtime, it is mystifying where this point comes from as a "normal" game awards only two points to the winner and none to the loser. This extra point has changed the landscape of first round playoff match-ups many times.

I feel that this year is a little bit different. The Florida Panthers, who won the Southeast division this year, participated in 24 games that went into overtime. Those 24 overtime games led the Eastern Conference, followed closely by the Montreal Canadiens with 21.

What I found troubling wasn’t that the Florida Panthers were in so many overtime games (it seems to be becoming increasingly normal for teams to head into overtime): it’s that they lost 18 of the 24 overtime games they were in – giving them 18 points I don’t feel they should have. Losing all of those overtime games really was the only reason they were able to win the Southeast division, they really weren’t a good hockey team.

The Olympics have a system in place that has been talked about a lot around the blogosphere as an option for the NHL and would help fix this problem. They award three points for a regulation win, 2 points for an overtime or shootout win and 1 point for an overtime or shootout loss. This would ensure that no matter how long the game takes to be decided, three points in total are always awarded.

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I think that this is a great way for the NHL to go, however I don’t like that the loser of the hockey game is still somewhat rewarded. I would like to see the loser get no points, no matter when they lose, with the winner getting two. In theory they could do away with the point system altogether and move to a winning percentage as the NBA and MLB already do.

Follow me over the jump to see where the teams fall with each system.

This is how the NHL standings look right now:

As you can see Florida has three teams directly behind them who have more points then them, this is sad in its own right but, of course, is a completely different issue.

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One thing that jumps out at me is that Toronto, a lottery team, has only one less ROW then Florida and only three more wins in total. Every team except Toronto, NYI and Montreal have more ROW then Florida.

Here are the standings if the NHL employed a 2-0 system:

Here you can see that you have to travel a pretty long way to find a team with less points then Florida, all the way down to Winnipeg in fact. This would leave the Panthers in the 10th seed, giving Washington an easy division title. This system would also see Philadelphia and Pittsburgh play different teams in the first round of the playoffs and Buffalo squeak in at 8th.

Here are the standings if the NHL employed the 3-2-1 system:

Things don’t change very much here. Florida would drop down to 11th place and Toronto would move up again to 12th.

As you can see, changing the point system to guarantee the same amount of points awarded per game doesn’t change the top teams standing very much. However for playoff races and, this year at least, for the Southeast division title it changes a lot.

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We could probably sit here and come up with a point system that would have seen the Maple Leafs win the Northeast but obviously that would be changing too much (or would it?). Either one of these systems (3-2-1 or 2-0) makes the point system fair and consistent as well as giving trailing teams a fighting chance to jump into the playoff picture.

In my mind professional sports are about rewarding the winner and humiliating the loser. In that vein, why, for 30 percent of the Florida Panthers season, was the NHL awarding them half of a win for a loss?

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  • The thing with changing the points system is that looking backwards usually won’t change things. However, if you change the reward system then the approach of teams to game would change because the incentives have increased for winning in regulation.

    Right now, teams lock things down earlier in the game because they want the guaranteed point and then will take their chances on OT/SO. But if you were to make regulation wins worth 3 points then it makes more sense to try to score more goals in order to secure the win. The move to 3 points in soccer has rewarded winning and the worst example is the year Liverpool finished 2nd to Manchester United by 4 points in part because while they lost fewer games, United won more. Too many draws cost them the title.

    • ncomas

      The forward-looking part is why they changed the point system in the first place, they were trying to get rid of teams playing for the tie (because it was more important to them to grab at least one point than to win an extra one more). As PPP says, the joy of a 3 point system is that it incentives winning even MORE strongly.

      Purely from a game-engineering point of view you would go even further and actually grant a small number of extra additional points for scoring at least 1 or 2 goals in a game,and more for winning by at least a 2 or 3 goal margin. That way the incentive is primarily to win, but secondarily to make sure that you get goals scored. A 2-1 win becomes worth more to the teams than a 1-0 win, and a 3-0 win becomes the best possible outcome a team could hope for (blowouts past that point having no extra value, so there’s not much point in running up the score wildly)… winning is still critical, but there’s an extra incentive to take some offensive chances to gain a few critical extra points.

      It would improve the hockey perhaps significantly, but the purists among us would have strokes, so I don’t see it ever happening. Fun to think about though.

  • ncomas

    I’d love to see two changes in the NHL standings system: First, go to the 3-2-1 or 2-0 system you guys discussed, but add in a second overtime period before the shootout, or scrap the shootout entirely somehow. It is not that exciting and annoying in the standings. The 4 on 4 OT, on the other hand, produces some of the best hockey. Add in another 5 minute OT, and maybe even make it 3 on 3.

    Second, the NHL needs to change its draft lottery system. One idea being thrown around in some circles is to have a sort of ‘lottery championship’. The idea is that once a team is eliminated from the playoffs (mathematically), they start getting points for the lottery, the same way ‘regular’ points are awarded. Then, the draft picks are awarded in order of these standings. So if a team is eliminated but then goes on to win numerous games, they’d get first overall. Fans can now cheer for their teams to win all season long, and all games become meaningful.

  • ncomas

    maybe the league can just change the point system year to year to the benefit of the leafs. or maybe just give them the first pick in the draft every year. maybe burke should get his pick of players off all the other teams’ rosters. or maybe, just maybe, people in toronto can stop with the idiotic notion that the league should cater its rules to help the leafs make the playoffs. time to face reality, all teams play by the same set of rules. to even suggest otherwise is ridiculous.

  • I know I’m probably in the minority, but I actually like this points system because it creates closer playoff races. I think it’s in every league’s best interest to keep as many teams involved for as long as possible, and the 3-2-1 system would spread the standings out too much. Maybe the MLB purists enjoy the fact that 60% of the season is utterly irrelevant to the Kansas City Royals and their fans, but hockey should be better than that.
    Also forgotten in most discussions of the “loser point” (I hate that term), is that any point system also has to rank the teams at the bottom of the table (for draft order), and it’s only fair and logical that teams that force a tie after 60 minutes should be ranked higher than teams that get blown out in regulation….the only way to do that is to give them a point.