Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Point Systems and Playoff Races

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Just before the GM’s meetings, Ken Holland talked to Eric Duhatschek about the nonsensical way that the NHL determines the standings:

“I was a big believer that we should go to the three-point game three or four years ago,” the Wings GM said. “I’m not a fan any more. What do you want? More separation? Less races?

…“I like it the way it is. If you look at the West, Vancouver, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, you’ve got four teams at the top, all within about six points. You’ve got about five teams at the eight-hole, between seventh and 11th, within four or five points. What more do you want? It’s stretch run time. We’re all rounding the bend and it’s a horse race. I think the races are incredible. So I’m not a fan. I was a fan. I’m not a fan any more.”

Maybe there is a good argument to have some games worth two points and others three, but I still haven’t heard one. This one certainly does not fly because it presents a false choice. There are very tight races because 8 of 15 teams make the playoffs in each conference. No matter how you compute the results, it is very likely that the teams ranked from 7th to 12th will be closely clustered. A big gap between the 8th and 9th teams is always unlikely. In other words, the current system is not necessary to assure exciting playoff races.

The six playoff wannabes in the West with their current point totals and a result based on a 3-2-1 format listed in brackets:

San Jose – 88 (117)
Dallas – 87 (117)
Phoenix – 87 (115)
Los Angeles 86 (114)
Colorado – 86 (110)
Calgary – 85 (115)

Even if ties at the end of regulation end as ties, we’d still get a very close race:

San Jose – 78
Dallas – 76
Phoenix – 78
Los Angeles 77
Colorado – 70
Calgary – 80

Colorado hangs into the race a little longer because of their 16-6 record in overtime and the shootout but Calgary would be right in the thick of it if they were not punished so much by their 5-15 record in games that involve an extra point.

Why does the league like this system so much? It beats me.

Postscript: How about this for an irony: A sensible points system would not diminish the playoff races at all, but the Divisional realignment favoured by the league (but not the NHLPA) would make the playoff races less exciting. In some Divisions the playoff race could be over at Christmas.

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Comments

13 Responses to “Point Systems and Playoff Races”
  1. James Mirtle says:

    Great point on the realignment… the playoff format there would be a huge problem. You’d have 100-point teams missing the playoffs potentially.

  2. Tom says:

    Obviously things would change because the schedule changes, but here’s what the playoff races would look like if they had realigned before this year. You only have a good race in one Division:

    NY Rangers – 101
    Pittsburgh - 100
    Philadelphia – 96
    New Jersey – 90
    Washington – 84
    Carolina – 75
    NY Islanders – 73

    Boston – 91
    Ottawa – 88
    Florida – 87
    Buffalo – 84
    Tampa Bay – 77
    Toronto – 75
    Montréal – 71

    St Louis – 103
    Detroit – 97
    Nashville – 96
    Chicago 92
    Dallas – 87
    Winnipeg – 78
    Minnesota – 72
    Columbus – 55

     Vancouver - 101
     San Jose – 88
     Phoenix – 87
     Los Angeles – 86
     Colorado – 86
     Calgary – 85
     Anaheim – 75
     Edmonton – 71

    • This is a great point, Tom, and one that I haven’t seen brought forward much elsewhere.

      As to the main point, the system in use currently is, of course, awful. I’ve seen four or five proposed changes, all of which I like much better.

  3. samuel says:

    I think the reason the league likes this system so much is because it has a psychological effect on perceptions of a team’s success.

    Fans who go to a game and see the home team “lose” in the OT or shootout still get the satisfaction of not really losing. People file out of the arena saying, “At least we got a point.” The customer leaves happier, hence more repeat business.

    (Think about this in comparison: Can you imagine how negatively fans would react if their team got zero points from a key late season game in a playoff race because they lost in the skills competition? And that would be happening almost every night to some team or another at this time of the season.)

    Similarly, as of right now, 73.3% of NHL teams can be said to have a “winning” record, since most people don’t include the OT and shootout losses (they are after all worth half a win, so why consider them to be real losses?). This helps fans feel better when they look at their team’s record — “The Flames are 8 games over .500!” (and they’re in 11th place).

    If this is in fact the NHL’s strategy, I think it is pretty shortsighted. Teams play to get to overtime almost by default now in close games, which has led to all kinds of boring play. And it undermines the competitive integrity of the regular season. Wins mean less now — something similar to when a country debases its currency, the NHL has debased points. Certainly most hockey fans I know have slowly become more cynical and negative about “loser points” over the years since this point system came into play, and I can’t imagine that’s good for the NHL over the long run.

    • Tom says:

      I agree that the intent is psychological soothing of the fan, but that effect is still there is a 3-2-1 format. (I don’t like this idea much – I’d prefer 2 points for a win, 0 for a loss and 1 point each if teams are tied after regulation.) But if we are going to have shootouts, I think 3-2-1 is the best way to divide the spoils.

      I don’t like the term “loser” point because it implies a 2-0 split is better. To me the travesty is giving the “winners” an extra point in a breakaway competition. The losers earn their point in the tied hockey game. The winners are gifted an extra point in a gimmicky exhibition.

      • The other suggestion that I’ve heard (Matt Fewnick’s, I believe) is a 3-2-1-0 system where a win in regulation is worth three points, a win in overtime is worth two, a win in the shoot-out worth one, and a loss always worth zero. In the vast majority of cases, this would encourage teams to play to win rather than play to tie (which is the case now), and avoid rewarding teams for losing.

        • Tom says:

          So we’d have 3 point games, 2 point games and 1 point games? I don’t like that. I think all games should be worth the same.

          • Is there any particular reason for wanting all games to have the same number of points? I’m certainly not opposed to that, but it doesn’t bother me if they aren’t so long as the discrepancy encourages the right behaviors. The current rules encourage “playing it safe” whereas this system would encourage teams to be much more aggressive late in games. It would probably increase scoring too (though I don’t care too much about that, truth be told).

    • J in O says:

      Fans claimed teams played to get to overtime before anyone had ever heard of “loser points”.

      The only solution is to get rid of the stupid shootout. Screwing with the points system is as stupid as the shootout.

      • Tom says:

        I don’t think it is true that fans always claimed teams played to get to overtime before the advent of the three point game. Or at least not in the same way. The road team (or the inferior team) did freguently play to get a tie even before they had overtime. The home (or superior) team was seldom satisfied with a tie.

        When the extra point was introduced, both teams have an incentive to get the game into overtime. And I’m pretty sure studies have shown that teams are acting on that incentive. Ties in regulation went up after the third point was introduced.

        I agree that the best solution is to dump the shootout. But if they are not going to do that – and they are not – they should adjust the point system to remove the incentive to create more and more shootout games and to eliminate the inequity created when some games are worth 3 points and others worth two.

        I doubt if the league will do that either, but I don’t know why. The stated reason – to preserve great playoff races – is bunk.

        • J in O says:

          Maybe the NHL wants to have as many shootouts as possible. With Bettman at the helm it wouldn’t be surprising that they’d rather have highlights from a gimmick instead of great plays during the game.

          • Tom says:

            Reflecting more on it, I think it has just evolved to this and inertia sticks us here. We’ve had several different looks to the standings over the past 15 years and each one has led to something worse (in my opinion). Maybe we should be happy with the inertia.

            The problem isn’t easily solved. The proper way to break ties is with overtime until someone scores. That isn’t practical during the regular season, so I say live with the ties with or without the five minute overtime. Zero points for losing in OT. It’s the least bad solution. The inferior team might be happy with a point, but the superior team doesn’t want to settle for a tie so the play is pushed to the very end.

            The least bad solution when the tied game is decided by shootout is the 3-2-1 system, IMO.

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