The NHL awards a single point to a team losing in overtime or in a tie-breaking shootout, while the winning team gets two points.
Huh? How can a total of three points be awarded when a regulation game awards only two?
Strange. Let’s take a look at the league’s reasoning.
Before the NHL adopted the "extra point" rule (and before shootouts were implemented), teams tied after regulation might choose to play conservatively in OT, praying to split the two points and walk away with something for their 60-plus minute effort.
If they decided to play aggressively, going for the total two points, they might lose everything. So coaches preached playing it safe.
The single point now awarded for OT and shootout losses is supposed to encourage competitive play. Hopefully teams will feel they have less to risk going into OT—already assured the single loser point—and so they’ll really go for the win and the two points, making for an exciting finish to the match.
So far the new arrangement has motivated the desired effects. For examples of this, take a look at games played on February 14, 2008.
Toronto, coming in last in the Eastern Conference with 55 points (and second to last in the league overall), was just eight points behind eighth place Boston (63) in competition for the final playoff spot.
The Maple Leafs have played inconsistently all year long, blowing third period and last minute leads in several games. Now those bonus points have piled up to make it look like they have a shot.
And that's exactly what the NHL is trying to do. They want to create and manipulate a competitive balance so that even poorly performing teams will put up a fight, thinking they still have a chance in the playoff race. Good for the league, good for fan interest, et cetera, et cetera.
However, the problem here is that this system gives fans false hope.
Tampa Bay had earned 56 points by February 14th, and was No. 14 in the conference but just six points away from a tie for the division lead in the mediocre Southeast Division. If the Lightning were to hit a hot streak, it would be possible for them to catch up to division leaders, even making it to third place in the entire conference.
And just to look at this humorously for a second, a team could go 0-0-82, earning 82 points. That's a .500 record for not winning a single game. Wow.
Professional athletes are paid big bucks. Do they really need to be rewarded with these consolation points?
Teams may proudly proclaim this season the greatest in history, but they will be referencing a high point total inflated by these loser points. And don’t be surprised if the league uses this “feat” to jack up ticket prices.
Now, does any other North American league award points to losers?
Nope. Not in Major League Baseball. If you lose a 23-inning marathon, that's too bad. You get nothing in the standings. Just go out and play better next time.
Not in basketball. You keep playing until someone loses. Your team could even score 150 points in the game, come up second best, and leave with nothing to show for it.
Not in football. You lose in overtime because your team’s kicker blew it while the other’s didn't.
You’ll find the only policy comparable to the NHL’s loser point system in the Canadian Football League (CFL), where a missed field goal could result in a single point. But then again, the CFL is not really a major league.
The point is that giving points to losing teams is a bit goofy. No other leagues do it. So why the NHL?
Well, lots of NHL policy borders on the nonsensical, but this loser point system really goes above and beyond.