Time to Fix the NHL Points System
In order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams spend the entire year working to collect points in the standings. Unlike other professional sports leagues in North America, like the NBA, MLB, and NFL, the NHL uses a points system rather than just comparing total amounts of wins amassed. At a glance, the NHL points system makes decent sense. A win is worth two points and a loss zero, but the flaw in the system is how points are awarded when a game goes to overtime.
Upon reaching overtime, both teams playing receive one point in the standings. The winner through overtime (or shootout if the five minute overtime period ends without a goal) then receives a second point. This creates a third point in all overtime games, making them essentially worth more than a game that ends in regulation. The winner takes home two points as usual, but the loser still retains a point.
Why the Points System Needs to Change
The fact that an overtime game carries more weight than a regulation game unfairly weights some games as essentially more valuable than others during the regular season. This is a dilemma that has existed for far too long in the NHL. Games become stale in the final five to ten minutes of a tied game, as both teams want to get to overtime for the free point. Fans notice this too, especially as the season winded down this year and tons of games went into overtime. There was an obvious change in pace in third periods, especially when games were close or tied. Far too often it appears both teams are more interested in getting the guaranteed one point than fighting to snatch two before regulation ends.
Not only that, but there have been multiple instances where a team will qualify for the post-season despite having fewer wins than one or more teams that fail to make it. This year, for instance, the Philadelphia Flyers got in ahead of the Florida Panthers, despite having 2 fewer wins. They earned 14 points by way of overtime and shootout losses, propelling them into the playoffs (and ahead of both wild card teams, despite having two and three less wins than those teams too). Those 14 overtime losses are essentially worth the same as seven wins…
The league started awarding the automatic overtime points in the 1999-2000 season. This is actually not a bad idea at its core. After all, being able to force a game into overtime at least shows that both teams played “equally” well. For example, losing a game 2-1 in overtime definitely shows a better performance than losing a game 5-0 in regulation. For that reason, it makes sense to reward teams for at least getting a game to go to overtime before losing. However, the amount of points awarded in all types of games just needs to adjust a bit to more properly reward teams that win in regulation.
The 3-2-1-0 System
To reduce the frequency of stalemate play between teams late in the third when tied, while also maintaining the reward for at least forcing overtime, the NHL points system should adapt a 3-2-1-0 weighting style. What this means is that a regulation win would be worth 3 points, an overtime or shootout win worth 2 points, an overtime or shootout loss 1 point, and a regulation loss 0 points.
Suddenly, just forcing overtime is far less attractive than a regulation win. It would take three overtime losses to equate to one win. Given how unpredictable the 3-on-3 overtime is, not to mention the shootout which is essentially a coin flip, it becomes a much larger gamble to just settle for overtime and hope for the best.
The biggest advantage to this system is that it rewards winning to a better degree. A regulation win signifies a definite upper hand in performance on that night. Blowouts, multi-goal leads, and third-period heroics would be more heavily weighted. This makes forcing overtime essentially like “stealing” a point or two from the other team in the standings. That is a much more sensible system than suddenly creating a third point, as we see in the current system.
Re-Seeding the Playoffs with the 3-2-1-0 System
Below is the standings from the 2017-18 NHL season re-done using the 3-2-1-0 points system. Not all teams are included, just those which finished above the .500 mark using the current system. This is simply because the leftover teams were still significantly far from the playoff race.
Nashville Predators = 159 points ; Winnipeg Jets = 157 ; Minnesota Wild = 139 ; Colorado Avalanche = 130 ; St. Louis Blues = 127 ; Dallas Stars = 125
Vegas Golden Knights = 148 points ; Anaheim Ducks = 136 ; San Jose Sharks = 135 ; Los Angeles Kings = 132 ; Calgary Flames = 112
Washington Capitals = 143 points ; Pittsburgh Penguins = 133 points ; New Jersey Devils = 130 points ; Philadelphia Flyers = 129 points ; Columbus Blue Jackets = 127 points ; Carolina Hurricanes = 113 points
Tampa Bay Lightning = 155 points ; Boston Bruins = 153 points ; Toronto Maple Leafs = 142 points ; Florida Panthers = 134 points
Nashville Predators (CEN1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (WWC2)
Winnipeg Jets (CEN2) vs. Minnesota Wild (CEN3)
Vegas Golden Knights (PAC1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (WWC1)
Anaheim Ducks (PAC2) vs. San Jose Sharks (PAC3)
Washington Capitals (MET1) vs. Florida Panthers (EWC2)
Pittsburgh Penguins (MET2) vs. New Jersey Devils (MET3)
Tampa Bay Lightning (ATL1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (EWC1)
Boston Bruins (ATL2) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (ATL3)
So, as you can see, the only change as far as qualifying teams goes is that the Florida Panthers would be in. Interestingly enough, the Columbus Blue Jackets would fall out. Despite the Flyers being the team that simply won less than either of these two teams, the Blue Jackets had many of their wins come in overtime. They fell out because of just how often they went to overtime rather than being able to settle games in regulation.
Playoff match-ups don’t change at all in the Western Conference, as seeding is identical on that side. The East, though, sees three different match-ups than we actually have in reality. This is important to notice, as the 3-2-1-0 system would not completely uproot the structure of the league. Only one of 16 playoff teams would change, and otherwise it is just some shuffling of first round match-ups.
A Superior System
At the end of the day, this system better reflects each team’s performance over the season. The teams that qualified for the post-season were the teams that both won more often than the rest of the league, and did so in regulation. This essentially takes into account the quality of those wins, since again a regulation win reflects a “better” win than an overtime or shootout one does.
In the 3-2-1-0 system, the Presidents Trophy-winning Nashville Predators would still be the league’s best team with a record of 42-11-11-18. (This is laid out in the order of the 3-2-1-0 system, so reg. wins, OT wins, OT losses, and reg. losses). The Florida Panthers squeak into the post-season thanks to a 38-6-30-8, demonstrating a clear ability to win games in regulation. The Blue Jackets fall out because they went 30-15-30-7. The Avalanche (35-8-30-9) still edge out the Blues (33-11-29-9).
Time to Make a Change
The point here is that the playoffs would better reflect teams that were able to win more often than lose, and also get it done in regulation more often than in overtime. Since there’s no advantage to overtime in the playoffs, this points system would also better predict the teams more able to succeed in the postseason. Qualifying thanks to overtime losses is no way to generate playoff success, as a loss is a loss when playing for the Cup.
It is time for the league to correct their points system, and this is absolutely the most logical way to do so.
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