Wednesday, January 04, 2017

One Man's Opinion: Time to Change the NHL's Ludicrous and Broken Point System

Imagine the ridicule.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announces that starting in 2017, whenever a game is decided in extra innings, the losing team will no longer be charged with a loss. Instead, they will be credited with a half-win in the standings.

An absurd concept? Absolutely. But welcome to the National Hockey League model. As opposed to the NFL, CFL, NBA and MLB, that is exactly what happens when a hockey game goes to extra time. The loser gets a pat on the back, a hearty 'thanks for coming out' and a single point.

What if this was the case in football?

If the NFL awarded a point for losing in overtime, then it's Tampa Bay that makes the playoffs in the NFC this year instead of Detroit. Each team finished with 9-7 records with the Lions getting the last wild card spot based on the tie-breaker. But viewed through the more charitable lens of Gary Bettman, the Buccaneers would have been 9-6-1 as their week 8 loss to the Oakland Raiders came in OT.

Win for You, Half-Win for You...

No, the NHL doesn't refer to the point awarded to the losing team as a half-win like I do, nor do they describe it as a loser point, which is the popular expression with fans. Their carefully crafted spin is the victorious team gets a bonus point. Semantics aside, if you are getting half as many points as the winning team when you lose, I feel the description 'half win' is, well, on point.

One thing for certain is an overtime loss in the NHL is not viewed as an ordinary loss -- far from it -- and we know this because of the way it's uniquely categorized.

In hockey, all wins are created equal. Whether it happens in regulation time, in overtime, or in a shootout, they're all proudly lumped together under the category of win -- no questions asked.

Awkwardly and inconsistently, the same cannot be said about losses.

Lose a hockey game in overtime or a shootout and the league feels sorry for you and essentially doesn't count that as a loss. Instead, those types of setbacks get their own column in the standings way over to the right called 'overtime loss', which is code for participation ribbon.

Inequality Kills Credibility

It really is an asinine concept that some NHL games only have two points available yet randomly in some other games, there are three points up for grabs. The latter represents a 50 percent mark-up in the overall value of a game.

The idea of a professional sports league having a floating value for every game is ridiculous.

Last night in San Jose, the NHL handed out its 150th loser point when Los Angeles beat the Sharks 2-1 in overtime. It's insane that the season is not yet at the halfway mark and the league has already handed out that many bonus points. This is the sports equivalent of printing money.

At this pace, 323 extra points will be given out by season's end. That would be a new high. The most since the 2004-05 lockout was 307 in 2013-14. Last year there were 275 bonus points awarded. You get a point and you get a point and you get a point... Is Bettman the NHL's commissioner or is it Oprah Winfrey?

That brings us to the NHL's fake .500 mark. Seriously, is there a bigger scam going? Ginsu Knives have more credibility.

By counting all wins as wins but not counting all losses as losses, you end up with standings that don't add up. The result is this notion of a .500 mark that isn't a .500 mark at all, despite it being touted as such by coaches, players and media.

Depending on what happens in other games the next couple nights, if Winnipeg (18-19-3) and Buffalo (14-15-8) each win their next game, it is very possible that a glance at the league standings on Friday morning will reveal only two teams below the so-called .500 mark. Two! Arizona (11-21-5) and Colorado (12-24-1). Viewed another way, that would mean 28 of the NHL's 30 teams would be at or above .500. Alrighty then.

It's dumb, dumb, dumb and highlights the farcical nature of this dreamworld the NHL has concocted where potentially every team could be above .500.

Parity? How about parody. Do they really think fans are that stupid?

It's for this reason I refuse to reference the .500 mark in my writing and I invite you to boycott it too, because it's inaccurate. If you're at .500, that should mean you have won the same number of games that you've lost. Simple. Yet that's not what it means in the NHL.

Solution is Right in Front of Us

Quickly, name the only two Pacific Division teams that are truly above .500?

While the Flames sit fifth in the Pacific standings as viewed today, Calgary (20-17-2) at 20-19 joins first place San Jose (23-13-2) at 23-15 as the only two teams that are truly above .500.  Anaheim (19-12-8) is actually 19-20. Edmonton (19-13-7) is also 19-20 and Los Angeles (19-15-4) is 19-19.

One argument for the extra point is it keeps more teams in the playoff races for longer. That's probably true, but that doesn't make it right.

Now I'm not advocating getting rid of the loser point, because I know that will never happen, but there is an obvious fix right there in front of our eyes and it's not a new concept either.

The obvious solution is to adopt the three-point model that the IIHF uses at international competitions like the Olympics and the World Junior Championships going on right now in Toronto and Montreal. For what it's worth, this same point system is also in place in the KHL.
  • Win in regulation - 3 points
  • Win in overtime/shootout - 2 points
  • Lose in overtime/shootout - 1 point
  • Lose in regulation - 0 points

Would this point system result in teams being more spread out and the perception of less teams in the playoff race? Maybe, but there are advantages too. With three points up for grabs for a regulation win, teams would have the ability to close the gap quickly when playing teams in front of them in the standings. Also, think of how important divisional clashes would become. Forget about the four-point game, now they'd be known as six-pointers.

Final Word

It's time to quit this charade that makes the NHL look like a Mickey Mouse league.

Regulation wins are different than overtime wins and should be categorized and compensated differently, just like overtime losses and regulation losses already have different values.

It's not that difficult of a concept to wrap your head around.

To the outrageously weak counter-argument we've heard over the years that a three-point system likely wouldn't have made much of a difference in the past anyway, don't view that as a reason not to change the current system, but view that as every reason to change the system.

While it may not impact the standings, it would impact the league as a whole, as it would make the NHL look far more credible.

Come on NHL, clean it up.

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    1. You say getting rid of the loser point is unrealistic. If we disregard realism and look at the ideal, wouldn't it be better to just have the standings by win%, regardless of how you win? In the words of Justin Trudeau, "a win is a win is a win" (or something like that). If a game goes to OT or SO, it should not be worth anything more. It's just an extra opportunity to decide a close game.

      Sports are competitive, so imo wins should be all that matter. There should be no compensation for teams that strategize to take it past regulation.

      It's ridiculous that the Flames are 2nd in win-loss record in the division yet are 5th in current pt%.

      1. OT or Shootout wins should definitely not be worth anything more. That's where I'd argue they should be worth less, if you are going to then reward a team for being tied after regulation.

        This also provides an added incentive to win in regulation, which could also promote some strategizing. The chance to pick up three points (versus none) on a team you're battling with in a playoff race could be huge. Heck, it could result in some pulling of the goalies in tie games down the stretch as teams try to get that regulation time win.

        The only way you can treat wins the same in my opinion is if you treat losses the same and again, dragging reality into it, I don't think the NHL is prepared to go away from at least rewarding a team a little bit for being tied through 60 minutes.

    2. Not to mention how it could impact the trade deadline. Can you imagine if there was a much more discernible line between the buyers and sellers come trade deadline, how much more activity we might see. Trades are good for the league, they generate publicity. The salary cap has all but killed trades, so why not help out the trade market a bit.

      1. Good thought, although while there may appear to be a more discernible line between buyers and sellers, that may be more perception than reality as gaps can close faster with three-point wins a possibility.

        But I do agree that if it promotes more teams pulling the plug and selling off players, a more active trade deadline always makes life more interesting. For me, anyway.

    3. Is it possible to see what the standings (this year and last year) would be like if the 3 point system were in place?

      1. It seems someone has graciously done that below. I believe there is also a website that does this daily, or at least there used to be, which offered the standings in various types of point systems (there are others).

        The point I will repeat is I don't really care if the standings differ that much. That still doesn't make this point system logical. It makes no sense to inflate the value of some games, they should all be equal.

    4. Maybe teams should only get one point for winning a game by more than two goals. This would discourage them from making the other team sad.

      1. But I would argue for a provision that states rather than surrendering a sportsmanship point for being so mean, a team can agree to the alternate punishment of taking the other team out to Dairy Queen after the game -- and not for a $0.99 burger either. An ice cream with a minimum $5 value.

      2. Unfortunately, this would put a financial burden on more talented, small market teams. Peanut Buster Parfaits in Canada are more expensive and bus fare for everyone would double the cost of winning. Teams like Arizona and Carolina would have no incentive to win as they don't have enough revenue from seat sales to recover the cost.

    5. Columbus Blue Jackets 79
      New York Rangers 76
      Pittsburgh Penguins 75
      Montreal Canadiens 71
      Minnesota Wild 69
      Washington Capitals 68
      Chicago Blackhawks 67
      San Jose Sharks 65
      Anaheim Ducks 63
      Boston Bruins 60
      St. Louis Blues 60
      Edmonton Oilers 60
      Ottawa Senators 58
      Tampa Bay Lightning 58
      Philadelphia Flyers 57
      Calgary Flames 57
      Toronto Maple Leafs 54
      Nashville Predators 54
      Los Angeles Kings 53
      Dallas Stars 53
      Winnipeg Jets 52
      Carolina Hurricanes 51
      Vancouver Canucks 48
      Florida Panthers 48
      New Jersey Devils 48
      New York Islanders 48
      Buffalo Sabres 47
      Detroit Red Wings 45
      Colorado Avalanche 33
      Arizona Coyotes 33

      Should be about right.

      1. Confirmed, the Coyotes and Avs are still dreadful. (But seriously, thanks for donating your math time and posting the overall standings based on 3-point model.)

      2. Spreadsheets are quick and painless.

        You're welcome, Darren.

    6. Last year 21 teams had between 7 and 11 "half wins", so the effect on the standings was minimal. The last 3 years - the biggest half winners were non playoff teams anyway, Carolina last year with 16 and Philadelphia and New jersey the 2 years before with 18

      1. A couple thoughts:

        1. Minimal impact is all it may take though for one team to make it on the coattails of a pile of half-wins, and one -- potentially more deserving team -- to not.

        2. Minimal impact is also not a reason to keep things the same if the model doesn't make sense, which I'd argue is the case here. All games have equal total value. It's what every other sports league does and what the IIHF does with hockey. It's the logical way it should be.

      2. Agreed, in terms of principle you are 100% right. However the NHL has, at times, shown a stubborn persistence to change things that break with tradition. The 1 point for a tie is a long standing NHL fixture. When regular season overtime came in, giving up the tie was not acceptable to the traditionalists, and doing it now causes some to worry that they are messing with tradition and records. The 3 point system is too radical for the decision making dinosaurs - and dropping the "tie" point is a non starter. It might change if ( a big IF) a significant team ( Leafs, Rangers) miss the playoffs to a team with 15 or more half wins.

      3. NHL is stubborn? Can you give me a couple hundred examples. Actually, that would be too easy, never mind.

        As for records, so much has changed anyway when you talk history with team records in the old days based on ties, no OT, etc. Even individual records now, other than games played, are hard to compare given the different eras. But I do understand what you're saying and I won't be anxiously awaiting a new point system to kick in anytime soon. Cheers.

    7. Seriously though, I agree with your article. All games have to have the same value. KHL and IIHF both have the best/fairest system. If the NHL considered a 3 point system, Bettman would find a way to give both teams 3 points. Then all the games would sell out because everyone's favorite team is always in first place.

    8. I don't like the 3 point system any more than the current system. Let us start the change by awarding 2 points for the team that pots a goal in the OT period, 0 for the loser. If it is still tied, play another 5 minute OT with a Winner and a Loser should a Goal be scored. No goals scored and the game is declared a Tie. One point for each team.

      Three on three hockey is exciting and a second period of 3 on 3 hockey is preferable to shootouts and a loser point system.

    9. An argument I often hear (though that's not to say I agree with it) is that changing to the 3-point system would tarnish team scoring records.

      Another is that a team's shootout performance shouldn't dictate whether or not they make the playoffs and a loser-point can help in that regard. If anything this strengthens the argument for 3/2/1/0.

      1. Regarding the first argument, team records carry asterisks so often anyway. 80 game seasons, 84 game seasons, 82 game seasons, 76 game seasons, 48 game lock-out seasons. There always has to be some sort of flattening out (or balancing) of the different years if you do want to compare and that already happens today. Plus, the addition of OT, shootout, no more ties has already wreaked havoc with team year-by-year comparisons. So yes, would be a bit dramatic to start, but not a reason not to do it as I see this issue existing already anyway.

        As for the shootout, you could treat those results the same as it is today and have a ROW column to distinguish Regulation/Overtime wins if you still felt that was a worthy tie-breaker, although I'd go regulation wins first, then OT wins, THEN shootout wins. You could lump the bottom two together as they'd have their own column but I know they wanted to diminish value of shootout wins so may want to stick with that plan still, thus we may have to track OT wins separate from shootout wings.

        Good thoughts, thanks for sharing.

    10. Hi Darren. I believed the exact same thing, so I re-did the standings using the point system you suggest and which I agree with. However, I was quite shocked to find out it made very little difference in the actual standings. Now that was a month ago, and maybe things have changed. Personally I always include OT losses combined with regulation losses to determine who the best teams are. Win differential between W's and OTL PLUS Reg. L often determines the best teams far more than total points in my opinion.