Finding a Middle Ground with the NHL Standings

The way in which the NHL calculates standing points is a hot topic examined every year- especially by the media.  The problem that’s always pointed out is the fact that games that end in regulation are only worth 2 points while those that go beyond regulation are worth 3 points due to the loser being awarded 1 point (hence the term “loser point”).

The frustration with that model is easy to understand if you’re a fan of team like Anaheim that’s trying to make a late run to the playoffs only to discover that being 10 points out is more like 20 when you can gain only one point at a time due to those above earning loser points.  Especially frustrating to those fans (and likely players in that situation) is the knowledge that those teams ranked higher in the standings actually play for the loser point first and winning second, as Eric Duhatschek found out.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise as they are only doing what makes the most sense.  Duhatschek obtained this quote from Jay Bouwmeester on the situation:

“You always want to win – and you always want to take advantage if there’s an opportunity to score goals,” Bouwmeester said. “Having said that, I think a lot of teams – and people – realize how important all the points are. Ever since the shootout was put in, it’s been a dogfight right at the end of the year. And every year, it’s the same problem, there are all these three-point games.”

Here a couple of graphs to reinforce Bouwmeester’s point on 3 point games.



These graphs show a significant overall trend upward in 3 point games as the season has progressed- with the biggest jump coming after the first of the year as teams try to assess where they will be at the trade deadline.  Interestingly, it’s not the number of overtime games that’s increased (percentage-wise), it’s the shootout games.

A popular alternative being suggested is the “3-2-1 model”.  That format would award 3 points to a team that won in regulation, 2 points for a team that won in overtime or via a shootout, and 1 point for a team that lost beyond regulation.  Pierre Lebrun of ESPN and TSN has been a longtime advocate of this format and wrote a great piece that provided both a history of the discussion and quotes from a few GMs across the league like this one from Steve Yzerman:

“We switched to 4-on-4 overtime years ago which is entertaining, I have no problem with that,” Yzerman said. “The shootout is a roll of the dice, it doesn’t prove who the better team is. I just think, let’s reward teams that win in 60 minutes.”

I do like the “3-2-1 model” better than the current standings formula.  It puts every game on equal footing and rewards winning in regulation the most.  Is that enough?  According to Lebrun, that’s enough of a positive change to make that move for a few GMs, but not enough to make it happen.  As Lebrun noted, one feeling against change is that the “3-2-1 model” would negatively impact the tight races we see today:

“The media used to complain that the regular season didn’t mean anything. Well, now, it means everything,” Holland said. “Every game matters; the standings are so close. Let’s keep the standings compact. Let’s keep the races. These races in incredible. Why change that?”

Lebrun’s argument to that was Anaheim’s attempt to climb the standings late in the year- made impossible due to the 3 point games.  That essentially echo’s the sentiments by players in Duhatschek’s article.  It’s a very good argument, but is that enough?

Additionally, he noted that the standings really wouldn’t be too much different in the “3-2-1 model”.  He’s also correct, however, that if the mindset of players and coaches are successfully changed that could be different.

So we have a new proposed model that should help shift mindsets into a more exciting brand of hockey where games are played to be won, but it could potentially “loosen” the tight standings albeit with no evidence to support that.

One negative aspect of the “3-2-1 model” is that it puts an overtime win in the same category as a shootout win.  Just by looking the quotes above, one can see that the real area of angst is the shootout and not overtime.  If you need any further evidence, look at the term “ROW” we all got introduced to this past offseason.  I think there is one tweak that could be made to that model that would make it much more palatable for some GMs.   If you were to modify the “3-2-1 model” to weigh overtime games the same as a regulation win- essentially taking ROW to the next level and eliminating it as a tiebreaker.  That isolates the “2-1” aspect of the model to just the shootout and reflects the feelings of those like Yzerman who believe the shootout “doesn’t prove who the better team is” while also keeping the hugely popular shootout in the game.

How would that impact the standings?  Much like the original “3-2-1 model”, not greatly.  Most importantly, it doesn’t eliminate the tight races either (again, in a vacuum).  Here’s a snapshot of the standings through today (80 games played for every team):


While there are some ordering differences in many of those individual races, all the races themselves are still just as tight.

Does the “modified 3-2-1 model” bridge the gap between those that favor the current model, those that favor the “3-2-1 model” and those that favor the more extreme “2-0” model?  I don’t know, but it does seem to offer something for everyone.

  • Teams do not benefit from playing an extra-tight game in the final five minutes of regulation in order to score a point.  A loss in overtime on more open ice is the same as one in regulation.  That should encourage more “playing to win”- which encourages more exciting hockey.
  • Every game is worth the same number of points.
  • Teams have a little bit more hope of moving up in the standings.  The elimination of the “loser point” provides the best opportunity for that, but this model provides the next best opportunity.
  • Shootouts stay, but are more overtly devalued.  That, combined with more “playing to win”, should provide a more natural lowering of the upward trend in shootouts in the last half of the season.  Additionally, the effect of the shootouts is immediate on the standings and not just in the event of a tie.

Hopefully, this slight variation to the “3-2-1 model” will come up for discussion during the next set of eligible GM meetings.

I’ve attached the spreadsheet I utilized for all calculations if you would like to download.


Downloadable Standings Spreadsheet- Updated with games through 4/5/12

David Singleton

You are invited to follow me on Twitter (@SingletonPreds).  For game recaps of all Predators games as well as great insights on the Predators and the NHL, check out my HockeyIndependent colleague, Mark Willoughby (@TheViewFrom111).

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About the Author: Nashville Predators Blogger, Software Engineer (C#.NET), Novice Woodworker, Southern Cook, Husband, Father of Two. You may contact me at David.R.Singleton AT

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