NHL Point System Needs Changes

Joe MacDonaldAnalyst IMarch 26, 2009

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 10: Cristobal Huet #38 of the Chicago Blackhawks stops a shot by Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators on his way to a shut-out on December 10, 2008 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Senators 2-0. (Photo byJonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I think it’s time we say enough is enough when it comes to the ridiculous NHL point system currently in place.

Of course I’m talking about the league’s infamous “three-point game”, where the team losing in a shootout or overtime gets a point, making some games worth more in the standings than others.

Proponents of the system usually site two main points when arguing the current format should be maintained. 

Firstly, that it’s unfair to not reward a team who fought it’s opponent to a stalemate for 60 minutes, only to lose in 4-on-4 overtime or a shootout, and secondly, that the three-point games keep the playoff races close and interesting to the very end of the season.

The first argument never made any sense to me because the three other major sports don’t feel any compulsion to reward a team for pushing the game to extra time. 

Football, baseball and basketball all play overtime during the regular season and none of those leagues make any distinction between a regulation win and an overtime win.  A win is a win and a loss is a loss. 

Even the NFL, with arguably the most unfair overtime system in professional sports, where a game can virtually be decided by the flip of a coin, doesn’t give the losing team any extra credit for an overtime defeat. 

So if it works fine for the other major sports leagues, it should work for the NHL, too.

It’s harder to argue the second point, because, on the surface, there’s no question that the NHL playoff races have certainly been more interesting since the new point system was initiated.  But a closer look at the current standings reveals that could be more of an illusion than reality.

What the current point system does is make the standings look close but also makes it extremely difficult to gain ground on the teams ahead of you.  Take the Ottawa Senators for an example. 

About three weeks ago, they stood in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings, 12 points out of the last playoff spot. 

In the next ten games the Sens compiled a 9-1 record and where did that get them?  Still in 12th place, nine points out of a playoff spot.  This is directly a result of the three point game.

Here is how the current standings in the NHL would look for each conference, including games of Wednesday, March 25, 2009, if we stopped rewarding losers of shootouts and overtime games:

Eastern Conference

1New Jersey Devils4794
2Boston Bruins4692
3Washington Capitals4590
4Carolina Hurricanes4182
5Philadelphia Flyers4080
6Pittsburgh Penguins4080
7New York Rangers3978
8Montreal Canadiens3774
9Florida Panthers3570
10Buffalo Sabres3570
11Ottawa Senators3264
12Toronto Maple Leafs3162
13Atlanta Thrashers3060
14Tampa Bay Lightning2448
15New York Islanders2448


Western Conference

1Detroit Red Wings4998
2San Jose Sharks4896
3Calgary Flames4284
4Chicago Black Hawks3978
5Vancouver Canucks3978
6Columbus Blue Jackets3876
7Anaheim Ducks3774
8Edmonton Oilers3570
9Minnesota Wild3570
10Nashville Predators3570
11St. Louis Blues3468
12Dallas Stars3366
13Colorado Avalanche3162
14Phoenix Coyotes3060
15Los Angeles Kings3060


A quick analysis of these standings indicates that the standings would be just as close, and the playoff races just as tight, if the three-point game disappeared. And it would also give teams, who go on a hot streak, a chance to make up some serious ground in the standings.

And, as an extra bonus, the Leafs would be right back in the draft lottery race where they belong. 

How can Brian Burke not support this change?