The Point Structure of the NHL

By | Mar 19, 2009

The NHL plays an annual 82 game regular season.  Each win is worth one point, each loss is zero.  Games ties after the end of regulation time go into overtime, and if they are still tied after the 5 minute overtime they go into a shootout.  The losing team in overtime or shootout gets one point, the winner gets two.  At the end of the regular season, eight teams in each of the fifteen team conferences make it into playoffs, seeded according to how many points they get.

Most readers probably knew that.  Why I am I talking about this?

Until a few years ago the NHL allowed games to be tied.  A tie was worth one point for both teams.  There was overtime, but if the game was tied at the end, it was a tie.  If you lost in overtime, you got nothing.  It was exciting.   At some point, the system was changed so that both teams were awarded one point regardless and the two teams were playing for the bonus point.  After the NHL lockout, the current system of suddendeath with a shootout was brought in.  I ask: What’s wrong with a tie in the first place?  I went to many games that ended in a tie – I never saw anything wrong with it.  I see no reason to force a silly tournament-style shootout for a regular season game; it almost cheapens the 65 minutes played before it, in my mind.

But what I am really going to discuss today is the point system.   Why is losing in overtime half as good as winning?  When did we start giving rewards to coming in last place?  Why is losing in the 60th minutes worth a point, when losing in the 59th is not?  It makes no sense to me – it is rewarding mediocrity.  Why do I feel this way?  How many NHL games been played, especially in this late time in the year, when teams simply sit back in the third period if the game is tied and wait for overtime.   Take the point, that’s good enough.  That’s boring hockey.

Here is what I (and many others) propose:  adopted a modified variant of soccer’s three point system.  In Soccer, a win is 3 points, a draw is 1.  This means that teams that try to ride out ties find themselves falling in the table very quickly.  If we adapted this to the NHL and gave 3 points to a win and one point for a tie (with overtime), you would see teams really trying to get the wins, because to take the one point wouldn’t be good enough.  In a pinch, they could even allow only two points for a win that is achieved in overtime, and maybe even one point for the loss in overtime since it would only be 1/3 as good as winning. 

I think a reevaluation of the current system is in order – I remember a few years ago when Pittsburgh shot into the playoffs and it seemed all they did was sit back and wait for the shootout.  They weren’t actually any good that year (which is why they lost in the first round to Ottawa) and only got where they were in the standings because the shooutout was like free points – they didn’t have to score goals, they got in the ‘bonus’ point shoot-a-thon.

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