NHL Standings: Would Ditching Loser Point Improve Hockey's On-Ice Product?

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 1: Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks deflects the shot of Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout during an NHL hockey game at the HP Pavilion on March 1, 2011 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won the game in a shootout 2-1. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Two points for a win. One point for a shootout win. No points for losing. Could this system prevent not-to-lose hockey?

Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski posted Monday about alternative standings systems, all stemming back to the fantastic tracker at 5-hole.com. He noted that things wouldn't be too different if you used a three-point system with a loser point, but there would be more separation if you took the loser point away.

I've advocated for a few years to ditch the loser point completely with two points for a win (regulation/OT) and one point for a shootout win. 5-hole.com has a version of that on their tracker, and you can see that the difference (going into Monday evening's games) would be that the Carolina Hurricanes would be behind the New York Rangers by four points instead of two and the Dallas Stars would be out of eighth place by five points instead of three.

Big difference? At this stage, perhaps, but I'm guessing it wouldn't have made a difference from Game 60 to today. Good teams are still good teams and competition is still competition, so the notion that the current system is a major part of league parity is kind of a myth. However, one thing that can't be reflected by pure alternative-standings number crunching is how a different system would affect play.

Now, this is pure speculation on my part, but one of the reasons I think a no-loser-point system will work is because you -- surprise! -- reward winning. This is critical because the past two weeks or so have seen their share of playoff-related games go into shutdown mode when it's tied late in the third period. If both teams need a point, they'll stop taking chances and build a wall in the neutral zone and in front of their goaltender. In many of these games, the last few minutes becomes a slog because no one wants to risk losing that one point.

If you punish teams for going to the shootout by taking away a loser point and devaluing the shootout win by a point, this creates an urgency to win the game when they're, you know, actually playing hockey. Theoretically, this should eliminate the mentality of playing not to lose, or at least diminish it.

Think about it this way: If you're just four points behind the eighth place team by mid-March, time is really of the essence. At this point, a single point is nice, but it won't cut it. You NEED those two points, so that means that even if the game is tied late in the third period, it's imperative to play risky hockey. Have the defense jump in on the forecheck, pull the goalie for an extra attacker and double-shift those top-line forwards. It's the difference between taking home one point or two.

Now, compare that to the way things currently work. Towards the end of the third period, that same team will probably hunker down and make sure NO shots go toward their net until regulation ends, so one point is earned. That team still has an opportunity to win while actually skating, and if they're a good shootout team, they have all the reason in the world to push play to the outside as much as possible until overtime ends.

Sure, they MAY go all-out with their skaters but the problem with this system is that a team like this has the option to play shutdown hockey. When you devalue the shootout and eliminate the loser point, there is no option if your goal is to gain two points. You must play firewagon hockey in order to gain in the standings. Shutting it down into a defensive shell simply won't get you anywhere.

If you want to tweak this further, there's the three-point system with no loser point (three points for a regulation win, two points for OT win, one point for a shootout win). 5-hole.com has this on their tracker, and again, you can see that this doesn't change too much in the standings though it does create one hell of a standings chart. This would essentially create a tiered system that doesn't reward losing but does punish a team the longer they take to win it. 

(One interesting thing you'd see in either of these systems is the emergence of the pulled goalie in OT, essentially creating a 5-on-4 power play. Right now, if you pull the goalie, you'll lose your charity point.)

The NHL often cites the parity created by the current standings system, but thanks to the number crunching by fans like those at 5-hole.com, we can see that the effect is fairly minimal. It might create clearer pictures a week or so earlier, but it would eliminate groups of games that become focused on playing not-to-lose hockey.

I'd take that trade-off any day of the week. Would you?

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