Kolupanowich: How to effectively improve the NHL standings system

(Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor
@TimKolupan_

The two most common complaints about NHL standings are how three points are given out in some games and that there are teams that try to force games into overtime. The main problem with games that go into overtime since the lockout is that teams who win get two out of two points available to them, even though three points were awarded, effectively skewing the outcome of the final standings.

The solution is this: instead of arranging the final standings by points, arrange them by points percentage. But, in the case of three point games, teams are awarded two of the three points given out, instead of two of two that they receive now.

Look at the standings right now and you’ll notice three columns: Wins (in which a team receives 2/2 points) losses (0/2) and overtime losses (1/2).

Instead, add a fourth column and change the standings to: regulation wins (in which a team receives 2/2 points), overtime wins (2/3), regulation losses (0/2) and overtime losses (1/3).

In this system, winning in regulation means more than winning in overtime. This would, theoretically anyway, cause teams to play harder at the end of regulation in a tie game. If teams have more incentive to win in regulation, the last five minutes would be much more exciting as they gunned for a victory rather than sitting back trying to get the game into a shootout.

Let’s use the Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks as an example for how this system works. Their final record at the end of the regular season was 51 total wins, 22 regulation losses and nine overtime losses for a total of 111 points. Those 111 points are totaled out of 164 possible points even though in 24 of their games, three points were handed out.

In this system, their record would be 36 regulation wins, 15 overtime wins, 22 regulation losses and nine overtime losses. They would still receive 111 points, only now that total is out of 188 points, one extra point for every overtime game they played, for a percentage of .59034. The reason for such a long decimal is because, as you’ll find out below between Florida and Ottawa, the percentages can be very close.

The final standings for the 2011-12 NHL season as they are recorded now:

Western Conference

Eastern Conference

1. Vancouver (51-22-9) 111 1. NY Rangers (51-24-7) 109
2. St. Louis (49-22-11) 109 2. Boston (49-29-4) 102
3. Phoenix (42-27-13) 97 3. Florida (38-26-18) 94
4. Nashville (48-26-8) 104 4. Pittsburgh (51-25-6) 108
5. Detroit (48-28-6) 102 5. Philadelphia (47-26-9) 103
6. Chicago (45-26-11) 101 6. New Jersey (48-28-6) 102
7. San Jose (43-29-10) 96 7. Washington (42-32-8) 92
8. Los Angeles (40-27-15) 95 8. Ottawa (41-31-10) 92
9. Calgary (37-29-16) 90 9. Buffalo (39-32-11) 89
10. Dallas (42-35-5) 89 10. Tampa Bay (38-36-8) 84
11. Colorado (41-35-6) 88 11. Winnipeg (37-35-10) 84
12. Minnesota (35-36-11) 81 12. Carolina (33-33-16) 82
13. Anaheim (34-36-12) 80 13. Toronto (35-37-10) 80
14. Edmonton (32-40-74) 74 14. NY Islanders (34-37-11) 79
15. Columbus (29-46-7) 65 15. Montreal (31-35-16) 78

Now here are the revised standings. In the left column is the team with their record in parenthesis along with the total number of pointes handed out in all of the games they played and in the right column is the percentage of points earned:

Western Conference

Eastern Conference

1. St. Louis (42-7-22-11, 182) .59890 1. Pittsburgh (40-11-25-6, 181) .59667
2. Vancouver (36-15-22-9, 188) .59043 2. Boston (38-11-29-4, 179) .56983
3. Phoenix (33-9-27-13, 186) .52151 3. Washington (31-11-32-8, 183) .50273
4. Nashville (40-8-26-8, 180) .57778 4. NY Rangers (39-12-24-7, 183) .59563
5. Detroit (36-12-28-6, 182) .56044 5. Philadelphia (37-10-26-9, 183) .56284
6. Chicago (34-11-26-11, 186) .54301 6. New Jersey (32-16-28-6, 186) .54839
7. San Jose (31-12-29-10, 186) .51613 7. Florida (31-7-26-18, 189) .49735
8. Los Angeles (31-9-27-15, 188) .50532 8. Ottawa (30-11-31-10, 185) .49730
9. Dallas (31-11-35-5, 180) .49444 9. Buffalo (27-12-32-11, 187) .47594
10. Calgary (32-5-29-16, 185) .48649 10. Winnipeg (27-10-35-10, 184) .45652
11. Colorado (25-16-35-6) .47311 11. Tampa Bay (25-13-36-8, 185) .45410
12. Anaheim (29-5-36-12, 181) .44199 12. Carolina (29-4-33-16, 184) .44565
13. Minnesota (22-13-36-11, 188) .43085 13. Toronto (26-9-37-10, 183) .43716
14. Edmonton (25-7-40-10, 181) .40884 14. NY Islanders (24-10-37-11, 185) .42703
15. Columbus (23-6-46-7, 177) .36723 15. Montreal (24-7-35-16, 187) .41711

As you can see, the same 16 teams would still make the playoffs, but the final standings have been altered. St. Louis, on the strength of their league-leading 42 regulation wins, would overtake Vancouver for the Presidents’ Trophy while in the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh would just edge out the Rangers for the top seed. Florida would relinquish their Southeast Division title to Washington as the Caps only had 19 games go into overtime compared to 25 for the Panthers.

This may not seem drastic, but let’s take a look back a few years ago to 2009-10. The Rangers played what was essentially a one-game playoff against Philadelphia on the final day of the regular season to decide who was going to make the playoffs. With this method, the Rangers would have made the playoffs and it is Montreal, who finished eighth that year, would have been on the outside looking in.

That season Montreal finished 39-33-10 for 88 points while the Rangers just missed by going 38-33-11 for 87 points. However, Montreal had 25 games go past regulation, winning 15, while the Rangers only had 15 go past 60 minutes, winning four. Montreal’s record would have been 24-15-33-10 for 88 out of 189 points while the Rangers would have been 34-4-33-11 for 87 out of 179 points. The Rangers would have made the playoffs based on having the superior points percentage, .48603 to .46561.

Some complain the NHL standings are confusing as they currently are and yes, this doesn’t help that. An extra win column, a different total to divide each team’s points by and a rather long points percentage only add additional numbers for fans to comprehend. However, in a system in which some games award three points, it is the best way to judge which teams have actually earned the highest percentage of points handed out.

Of course the easiest solution would be to adopt a simple system of just wins and losses. The NHL is the only one of the four major sports that doesn’t place teams by just their total number of wins. Sure, the NFL allows ties, but those are rare. But if the NHL is going to insist on having three-point games, it makes sense to reward those teams that are able to win in regulation more than those who drag the game on.

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