I love hockey. I love watching hockey, especially the NHL. There are a ton of things I love about the NHL, some things that I’m ok with, others that I don’t like but tolerate, and one thing that I think should be killed with fire. And that, as you may have guessed from the title, is the "Loser Point."
If you want to know why the NHL created the Loser Point, then read this great article by Sean McIndoe of Grantland.
Anyways the purpose of this post is not to bash the current system but to actually suggest a couple of viable (IMHO) alternatives that would serve to reward the best teams with playoff berths (and riches presumably), and weak teams with broken dreams and zero sympathy.
With each of these suggestions I tried to make sure that there would never be ties, and a shootout win would be considered a lesser win, somewhat like what the ROW stat helps to achieve now. Also this post doesn’t address any issues with the current alignment or playoff structure, just the hated Loser Point.
METHOD #1 – Win % (this is hardly a new idea)
Some of the media currently talk about points percentage, which is essentially a measure of accumulated points versus the total amount of points a team had available to them. Often teams with records of 30-30-22 would be considered a .500 team because they had 82 of a possible 164 points. I think this is total crap.
In my proposed Win% method, that same record would read 30-52 amounting to a .366 record owing to the fact that the team only won 30 of their 82 games. You might be asking "How do you account for the shootout wins?"
It’s simple really. The "ROW" remains as a stat in the standings to help decide tie breakers.
This method helps to do a couple of things a little bit better than the current system:
- No guaranteed point for taking a game past regulation
- Only winners are rewarded
If there is no incentive for teams to take a game past regulation, then we will start to see games where, in the final minutes of regulation or OT, the teams are still actively trying to break a tie to achieve a win instead of clamping down to get the guaranteed point.
The one problem I see with this method is that even though there is incentive to break a tie, it's not really that big of a deal. ROW is only used in a tie breaker and unless there is a tie, every win counts as a win, regardless of whether it's through playing hockey or flipping a coin (read: Shoot-Out).
Which brings me to my preferred way to measure the standings…
METHOD 2 – The Life-isn’t-fair-so-deal-with-it Method (or the SOWin method)
The basic idea behind this is to make Regulation and OT wins worth the usual 2 points, but the shoot-out wins are worth only 1 point. We would unfortunately still have 3 numbers to measure a team’s record, but that’s a small price to pay.
Currently, if a team has a 41-31-10 record with 35 ROW they would have 92 points and would probably squeak into the last playoff spot.
Now think of it another way – Using the SOWin method (horrible name I know), this record would change to a 35-41-6 record (35 wins, 41 losses, 6 SO wins) and carry 76 points (35x2 + 6 = 76). This team would probably miss the playoffs. If you want a better example – keep reading. [WARNING: math follows]
A disclaimer about the following: this uses the 2003-2004 season as a starting point for the calculations based on the fact that the incentive to win a game (and not tie) was highest from 1999-2004
In the 2003-2004 NHL season the 8th and 9th spots were held by NY Islanders (38-33-11, 87pts) and Buffalo (37-38-7, 81pts) in the east; and Nashville (38-33-11, 87pts) and Edmonton (36-34-12, 84pts) in the west, respectively. You’ll notice that I just went ahead and added the OTL stat to the losses and disregarded those points because that’s the whole idea of this exercise. In that season 170 of 1230 games went to a tie. I assumed that under the SOWin method a similar number of games will go to SO. The math works out to approximately 11.3 games go to the SO per team. Since the SO seems to be akin to a coin-flip anyways, let’s assume half of those become SO wins and see what happens to the final point values:
NY Islanders (38-29-11, 87pts) becomes (38-35-5, 81pts)
Buffalo (37-38-7, 81pts) becomes (37-42-3, 77pts)
Nashville (38-29-11, 87pts) becomes (38-35-5, 81pts)
Edmonton (36-34-12, 84pts) becomes (36-40-6, 78pts)
This would make the 8th place team in either conference have a winning record, and about 81pts to advance into the playoffs.
Why is the SOWin method my preferred way to resolve games in the NHL? Because it addresses so many issues all at once:
- Teams will actively try to break late game ties, providing a more exciting game
- Shoot out wins are lesser wins, in my opinion, and the points structure reflects this
- The playoff races will become much more heated with lower seeds having the capability to go on a 5 game winning streak and actually gain some ground on teams ahead of them
- Leaf fans no longer hope for a regulation win if Montreal is playing Ottawa. Instead they hope the game goes to a shootout.
- At first glance it looks as if almost all playoff teams will actually have a bona fide winning record
I believe the SOWin method would help the NHL become a much more exciting and fast paced league with teams taking higher risks for higher rewards as the game reaches the final minutes.
Imagine how much harder a team would work knowing that they lose a point if they head past OT?