Skip to main content Blog: NHL's useless loser point creates detrimental confusion

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Earlier in March we received a letter to the editor from Gord White of Aurora, Ont., suggesting we include a category for non-shootout wins in our standings because they now serve as the tiebreaker for teams with the same number of points at the end of the regular season. And he's right. But I really, really wish he wasn't – nor should he be.

Adding regulation/overtime wins (or shootout losses) to games played, wins, losses, OT losses and points brings the standings line to six categories. Why, when a simple, logical change would make it completely unnecessary?

Removing the “loser point” would simplify the standings (GP, W, L, Pts) and other related statistical information, which would benefit fans, and in turn the league, in a significant way.

Those who have followed the NHL for an extended period take its intricacies for granted. We all know what an offside is, why a team can't change after an icing, why a division winner gets a top-three seed, etc. But to those taking their first sip of hockey, it can take years to consume enough knowledge to get even a buzz.

So why make an already difficult sport to fully appreciate and understand even more so?

Cricket looks pretty neat; I'm intrigued by the power and skill of the game. But when you start talking about runs versus wickets in innings, I quickly get lost in the numbers and lose interest.

What if the same thing is happening to hockey? Potential new fans turned off by the fact the NHL is the only of the four major sports to employ a system other than wins and losses (and, in the NFL, in extremely rare cases, ties). This on top of those initially put off by the mere notion of awarding points for doing something other than emerging victorious. Sport is inherently divided by winners and losers, not winners and, um, semi-winners. If a squad stretches the Stanley Cup final to seven games before losing, should they be awarded 3/7ths of a league title?

Going back to a straight two-point system also rids the standings of “points percentage” - a winning percentage doesn't work because it requires an even number of points to be distributed in each game - and the conspicuous empty space in the “streak” column (which, since posting this blog, has been filled) because a team losing beyond regulation hasn't really lost.

The loser point could be stomached if it made significant difference in the standings, but the fact it has negligible impact (see chart below) and is also detrimental to game play makes it intolerable.

In the late 1990s, with the number of games ending in ties increasing, the NHL instituted a pair of new rules prior to the 1999-2000 season. Teams tied through 60 minutes would each get a single point and then play an extra five minutes of 4-on-4 for a bonus point. And it worked. The number of tied games decreased. But with the elimination of ties in 2005-06, the very reason the league put the “loser point” in place has been rendered moot.

And here’s the kicker: Just as teams prior to the original rule change in 1999 turned to boring, defensive hockey in overtime to ensure they got a point, clubs are now doing the same thing, only in regulation. The number of overtime games has increased since the “loser point” was introduced in 1999-2000. In the three seasons prior to its introduction, 20.2 percent of games needed extra time. In the past three seasons, including the current one, 23.7 percent of contents have gone into OT.

If there’s no loser point, there’s no reason to lock it down.

So why, then, does it remain?

NHL vice-president of hockey operations Mike Murphy said the league has no interest in change at this time because it believes the current system is effective in keeping playoff races tight.

Adjusting the standings without the loser point since the lockout suggests sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Either way, the separation is usually minimal (same with the 3-2-1 system, so let's not start on that) and would have never resulted in a team missing the playoffs other than the eighth-place team falling out.

So is the loser point worth the confusion it causes? My answer is a resounding “No.”

Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears regularly.

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