I recently had to write a paper for one of my classes at Penn State and decided I would propose how to change the NHL regular season point system. When I was about halfway through the paper, I realized some of the flaws in my argument but I was too close to the deadline to address it. The main problem I found was that I was allowing for equal points to be distributed for a shootout win when I think they should be worth less. The basic outline of my proposal was pretty simple, to increase points awarded for wins to 3 while keeping 1 point for an overtime loss. I figured this would be a good first step to my ideal point system, the one used by the IIHF of 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an OT win, 1 point for OT loss, 0 for a regulation loss. Anyway, I thought I would share my paper and my proposal. I used one year from the Barclays Premier League (English Soccer) where they use the 3 points for win 1 point for tie system, with their actual points being in parenthesis and if they used the NHL system outside parenthesis. Looking at the NHL, its the opposite, with the adjusted points (3 for win 1 for OT loss) outside of parenthesis and regular points inside. It's a first step, and I'm hoping somebody will take it to the next level and look at it adjusted for OT wins as well. Here is the link to the data I compiled. NHL Points Data. Thanks.
Overhauling the NHL Point System
The National Hockey League has come under fire from both its ardent followers and casual observers alike for a number of issues, one of the most frustrating being how the league handles regular season games that are tied at the end of regulation. Under the current system, following the end of regulation, each team is awarded one point. Regulation is followed by a five minute four-on-four (as opposed to the normal five-on-five) sudden death overtime period. If the game remains tied, a shootout takes place, where teams alternate shooting for a minimum best-of-three but can extend for as long as it takes for a winner. Following the overtime procedures, the winning team is awarded an additional point, giving them the normal two points allotted for a win, while the losing team receives one point despite losing. This point that has been dubbed the "Bettman Point" (SB Nation), a moniker derived from the last name of the NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. The debate has raged from whether the shootout is the proper way to decide games, whether a point should be awarded for an overtime loss, to questioning the very existence of the shootout (shootouts were not instated until after the NHL Lockout that cancelled the 2004-2005 season—games were previously ended as ties if not decided after the five minute four-on-four overtime). I propose a rather simple solution, modeled after another sports league I have become a fan of, the English Premier League, the highest tier of soccer played in England. After reading numerous articles as well as compiling data from my own research, I have concluded the NHL should revert to a system of awarding three points for any type of win, and one point for an overtime loss.
The shootout has been roundly criticized, being called for example "a mini skills competition exercise" (Bleacher Report). Instead of debating the merits of deciding games, I chose to look at the first step that would need to be taken to begin reform of the NHL points system. Each change must be passed by the leagues owners and general managers, and it is unlikely a change overhauling the point system as well as overtime system would be passed within the same year. To make the transition to eventually eradicating the shootout and overhauling the overtime system easier, it changes must first be made to how teams are compensated for their games played. As previously stated, a team is currently awarded two points for a win (no matter if it is in overtime or regulation), one point for a loss in overtime, and zero points for a regulation loss. This system makes overtime losses extremely valuable, and thus rewards teams for simply conservative play in an attempt to reach overtime and guarantee at least a point rather than attempting to win the game in regulation, making for a less exciting game. While some people take issue with "the fact that the winning a game in overtime or a shoot out has the same value as winning during regulation" (Chicago Now), I am more interested in increasing the amount of points a team receives for a win no matter the time, a solution I believe is simple enough to be an excellent first step to further reform. In my points system, if a tie were to exist in the final standings, a team that had more non-shootout wins would have the tie-breaker.
I analyzed the final standings in each conference (Eastern and Western) in the NHL dating back to the first year following the lockout, the 2005-2006 season. In these six seasons of sample size, there were twelve teams that would have had their final position altered, with seven of those being playoff teams. In each of these instances, teams were rewarded for their increased win total with more points and thus higher playoff seeding. For example, if the new system were to be adopted for the recently completed season, 2010-2011, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have reversed position with the Philadelphia Flyers, with the Flyers dropping to #4 and the Penguins moving to #2 due to the Penguins 49 total wins versus the Flyers 47 total wins. Each team finished with 106 points, with the Flyers finishing the season with 23 regulation losses compared with 25 of the Penguins, and gained the seeding advantage by losing in overtime 12 times while the Penguins only lost in overtime 8 times. The percentage of points the Flyers received from wins was 88.6% of their total points, meaning they gained 11.4% of their points from overtime losses. The Penguins, meanwhile, received 92.4% of their points from wins while gaining only 7.6% of their total points from overtime losses. Under the new point system, the Penguins would have finished with 154 points compared with 153 of the Flyers, as well as receiving 95.4% of their total points from wins, with the Flyers receiving 92.1% of their points from wins. This modest increase in percentage of points received from wins can make a massive difference in determining both playoff position as well as final standings.
The English Premier League has long used a similar point system to the one being proposed. In soccer, scoring is notoriously low and it is unlikely for a game to be decided in an overtime of reasonable length, and ties have long been an accepted part of the game. As a result, a team in the English Premier League is awarded three points for a win and one point for a tie. This system prevents teams with a large amount of draws from being unjustly rewarded, as these are frequently weaker sides who seek to play defensively, a style that is largely agreed upon as being less entertaining. To further emphasize the difficulties with the current NHL system, I took the standings from the 2009-2010 English Premier League standings and altered the points to observe the results had the English Premier League had the same point allocation system as the NHL. In the English Premier League, the top four teams all qualify for the UEFA Champions League, a competition showcasing the best club teams from across Europe that not only brings prestige to the clubs participating but also substantial revenues. The most telling finding from converting the point system was that the fourth place finisher from last year, Tottenham Hotspur, would have finished fifth and the fifth place finisher, Manchester City, would have finished fourth. Tottenham Hotspur was widely regarded as one of the most entertaining teams in the league, garnering 21 wins, 7 draws, and 10 losses throughout the campaign, while Manchester City managed only 18 wins, while amassing 13 draws and 7 losses. Tottenham would have been punished for their exciting style of play, as it tended to result in more decisive matches due to their constant pressure on the opposing team. A team such as City was content to sit back and wait, sometimes right until the clock ran out and the game ended in a draw. From a purely public relations standpoint, it makes more sense to favor the more exciting style of play to the conservative.
Another added benefit of the revamped points system is teams are less likely to finish the season with the exact same point totals, making tiebreakers, which can sometimes be as trivial as goal differential, less relevant. In the six seasons taken as a data sample, 38 teams were involved in a tie in the final standings that needed to be broken through a tiebreaker, sometimes even resulting in teams missing the playoffs. Under the new points system, this number is reduced by 34%, with 25 teams being involved in ties in the final standings. In the single year studied in the English Premier League, if points were to be allotted with the NHL system, 10 out of the 20 teams would have been involved in ties in the final standings. Under the three points for a win, one point for a draw system, only 4 teams finished with the exact same point totals.
There are numerous other alternatives worth considering, such as "assigning three points to a regulation (or overtime) victory. A shootout victory, which is an exciting but largely random event, should be worth two points. A shootout defeat should be worth one. A regulation defeat, zero." (New York Daily News) However, it is unlikely such a system would be put into effect in for at least a few years. The most sensible approach for immediate action is to award three points for a win and one point for an overtime loss. Such a system has numerous advantages, such as decreasing the amount of ties found in the standings following the conclusion of the regular season, and above all rewarding teams for the more exciting style of play more often attributed to higher win totals. It is simply logical to reward teams who have the most wins with more points, as opposed to rewarding teams who lose more frequently with half of the points received by a team that wins. By altering the point system, the likelihood of a more representative playoff field is increased, as well as offering a better illustration of a team’s achievements during the regular season.