In major league sports, winning percentage is everything. In most professional sports, number of wins and winning percentage dictates where you sit in the standings and if you make it to the post-season or not. There are only two notable exceptions: soccer and the National Hockey League. The NHL has adopted a strange system where each team is awarded two points for a win, one for an overtime loss and none for a regulation loss.
The overtime loss point means that a team can have less wins but still be higher up in the standings. For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins have 11 wins but are still one spot ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the overall standings, who have 12 wins. The Penguins, however, have two more overtime losses, giving them two bonus points over the Lightning. This bonus point for a loss means that sometimes there are three-point games, and sometimes there are two-point games.
So this is an open letter to the NHL: Please get rid of the pity point.
In international hockey, every game is a three-point game. It’s three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime win, one for an overtime loss and none for a regulation loss. This adds incentive to try to win games in regulation, and get the full three points. There’s a penalty for having a tie and needing overtime. An overtime or a shootout win shouldn’t be worth as much as a regulation win. And a regulation win shouldn’t be worth only one more point than a loss.
With the NHL’s current system, teams are rewarded for how they lose. No matter what, if you make it past the first 60 minutes of the game, you are guaranteed one point. If you are going to reward teams for how they lose, you should reward teams for how they win.
The three-point system brings more excitement to the game as well. If a team is tied late in the second during a tight playoff race, they’re going to push hard in the third for the full three points. With the current systems, most teams would settle for overtime and the possibility to earn the full two points. With the three-point systems, teams would be motivated to earn the full three points in regulation.
If the NHL implemented the three-point system today, there’d be a few changes in the standings. Minnesota, Toronto and San Jose would all be in the top 15 if the NHL were to switch to a three-point system today. Montreal would still be leading the league, but the second-place Chicago Blackhawks would drop to fourth place. Montreal would be the only would have the same ranking in the two-point system, as well as in the three-point system. Although most teams would only move around one or two places in the standings, later on in the season it could be the difference between playing spring gold, or going on a playoff run.
USport, formerly CIS, adopted the three-point system last season in women’s hockey. It was an easy transition — it didn’t change too much. The games had better finishes as teams were motivated to earn the full three points for a win. It made the playoff race tighter, with only 12 points separating the second place and eighth place (the first place Guelph Gryphons were 12 points ahead of the second place team). Twelve points is only four regulation wins, which separated seven teams. Brock only missed a playoff spot by one regulation win with the three-point system.
The NHL should consider making the switch. They’re the only league in major league sports who have a system where there are three-point and two-point games, depending on if the game needs extra time. It’s time to standardize how many points are given out in each game like they do in international hockey. If it’s good enough for international hockey, and for the Olympics, then it should be good enough for the NHL.