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What would the playoffs look like with a three-point standings system?

The idea of changing to a three-point standings system has been bandied about over the past few years. How would that system have changed this season's post-season picture?

At meetings earlier this year, the league’s GMs came together to discuss the state of the game and suggest and potentially pursue some rule changes. Everything from minor details to long-term, big picture modifications to the way the league operates was discussed. In the end, only minor changes came of the meetings, but GMs did at the very least discuss one major change: the possibility of changing to a three-point system.

The three-point system would dictate a change in the way points are doled out for victories during the regular season. Currently, two points are given to a team winning in regulation, overtime or a shootout, a single point to any team that loses in overtime or a shootout and zero points for a team that loses in regulation. What the system has created, much to the chagrin of many a purist, is the so-called “loser point.”

Reasons for frustration surrounding the loser point are many, and none are without merit. It creates false parity, this much we know, and it does reward teams for failing to close out games. It didn’t happen this season, but a team losing in the shootout or overtime could realistically back in to the playoffs. That would be quite the scenario, and one the league probably wouldn’t love to see.

One of the other disappointing things about the loser point is it sees some teams playing a less-than-exciting version of hockey in order to fight for the extra frame. After all, it’s better to escape a contest with a single point than nothing at all. And, hey, if a team can manage to drag the game all the way to a shootout, they may as well flip a coin. Sure, it’s no 50-50 odds they’ll come out on the winning side, but it might be an easier way to take home the two points. That’s been true this season.

Take the Red Wings, for instance. Detroit had a tough season, one that sadly came in the final year of the famed Joe Louis Arena, but despite the team’s shortcomings this season, there was one area the Red Wings were dominant: the shootout. Only five teams finished with fewer points than Detroit, who ended the year with 79, but coach Jeff Blashill saw his squad pick up a whopping 18 points in the shootout — the Red Wings had a perfect 9-0 record in the skills competition. The team that was next best at winning in a shootout? The Arizona Coyotes, who earned 12 of their 70 points in a shootout.

And while the three-point system wouldn’t eliminate the loser point altogether, it would make its value that much less. Under three-point rules — which are already in place in most international play and other top leagues, such as the KHL — a team winning in regulation would earn three points, an overtime or shootout win is worth two points and a loss in overtime or a shootout is valued at one point. As always, a regulation loss nets zero points.

So, what would the standings look like today if NHL GMs had suggested, and the rest of the league approved, a three-point system before the 2016-17 campaign? Well, oddly enough, there wouldn’t be much change. Take a look:


Aside from the obvious increased point totals, there are a few takeaways from what the present-day standings would look like under the three-point system. 

First, in the Eastern Conference, Boston’s regulation dominance would set them up to be the hosts, not the visitors, in their first-round matchup with the Ottawa Senators. Home ice in that series could become an important advantage, too.

More interestingly, though, the Western Conference would see some playoff matchups change. In the Central, the Wild’s remarkable regulation play — only the Washington Capitals won more 60-minute games — would put the Minnesota into top spot in the division and conference, ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks. The result would be Minnesota taking on the West’s second wild-card which, in this instance, wouldn’t be the Nashville Predators, but the Calgary Flames. That would give the West two divisional crossover teams and maybe we enter the playoffs with the Wild, not the Blackhawks, as the favorite.

However, any reimagining of the standings comes with a gigantic asterisk. 

Coaches and GMs noted around the time of the meetings in March that the three-point system isn’t as cut-and-dry as changing up the point totals and voila. Rather, it was pointed out that a different points system could encourage teams to play differently, which is to say a team that’s tied in the final two minutes of a contest might go on an all out attack in order to get the third point instead of entering overtime with the chance of leaving the contest with the single. 

A team like the Maple Leafs, who had 22 games decided in extra time, may have pushed for a few more regulation wins. And with only four points in the reimagined standings separating Toronto from third-place Ottawa, a few extra regulation wins could have made all the difference in that regard. There’s no telling how the point totals would change if three points were up for grabs every night, but it’s safe to say some games would have changed in the late stages

That’s what the league should be striving for, though. No more slow-play into overtime and an increased interest in winning when there are still three points to be had. It would give teams chasing playoff spots more incentive to win in regulation and could turn the tides in a hurry. Whether that means an extra win here or loss there is impossible to say, but imagine how frantic the final minutes of a tie game could become if a team chasing a wild-card spot needed the three points?

But until the day comes, or if it ever does, that the league kills the loser point or introduces the three-point system, the best we can do is take a look at what the standings might look like in an alternate hockey universe.

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