NHL Should End Shootouts, Scrap Points System

Today in Naples, Florida, the NHL general managers are getting together with league officials for their annual midwinter meeting. There are all sorts of topics on the agenda, including yet another look at the "rules of engagement" over fighting in the game, but I'm more interested in one rule change that's been proposed by Red Wings GM Ken Holland. ↵

↵Holland's idea is simple and it's a good one. He's proposing a change in the tiebreaker system. Today, the first tiebreaker goes to the team that has the most wins. Under Holland's proposal, the first tiebreaker would go to a team that had the most wins in regulation -- a wrinkle that recognizes the role that random chance plays in the shootout. ↵

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↵In turn, it also offers teams an incentive to play for the win in regulation no matter who an opponent might be. As the rules stand today, teams have plenty of incentive to let interconference games slip into overtime so each team can secure at least one point in the standings without hurting the other. But with this rule change, every head coach will have the thought in the back of their mind that letting another game slip into overtime may very well be the difference between winning or losing home ice. Or in a season like the one we're in now, even making the playoffs. ↵

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↵But as good as Holland's idea is, I don't believe it goes far enough. The best way to encourage more exciting and attacking hockey would be for the league to junk the current point system completely and award three points for a win, one point for a tie and eliminate the shootout. ↵

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↵At bottom, this is an argument that is all about incentives. Under the current system, both teams win a point for a regulation tie, giving teams a real incentive to sit back in the third period of a tie game and then let chance take over. And as I mentioned previously, this incentive is even greater during an interconference game, where teams will never have much of a problem letting another team earn a point if it won't hurt them in the standings. ↵

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↵In short, the points system has been rigged in order to encourage mediocrity, not excellence. On Saturday night on the Hot Stove segment on Hockey Night in Canada, former NHL coach and general manager Mike Milbury rejected that idea eliminating the current points system, saying that it wouldn't be long before certain teams would have so few standings points that it would appear that they were out of playoff contention early in the season. ↵

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↵To which I respond: that's part of the point. Think of it this way: would you rather have a league that rewards boring trapping teams that can keep the score close so they can claim a point merely for surviving all the way to overtime, or would you rather have a points system that encourages attacking play, and rewards teams that do it successfully? ↵

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↵The next time you watch Chicago play Washington in an interconference game that's tied with less than 10 minutes remaining, ask yourself that question again. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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