What if? Playoff scenarios under different points systems

#11, which is where we finished, and close behind is #1, which is where we want to finish. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

A favorite thing to do among NHL fans is to wonder how they can improve the NHL standings points system. Some say it's ridiculous that you get a point for losing (in fact the Florida Panthers gained 18 such points). Some twist that argument slightly and argue all games should be worth the same number of points, none of this inflationary three-point game stuff. Others (I'm in this camp for example) are irked that a shootout win counts the same as a regulation win because that's not hockey, that's a skills competition. Obviously the league feels ties must be broken in some manner, and would alienate a lot of fans by reinstating draws, but to a lot of us, it doesn't seem fair this way.

So what I like to do every year is take some of our pet points systems designed to "fix" the problems and see how things would play out differently given identical results (more on that implication later). Here's the systems at play:

  • The current system. Any win = 2 points. Any loss after regulation = 1 point. Regulation loss = 0 points.
  • The Olympic system. Regulation win = 3 points. Any win after regulation = 2 points. Any loss after regulation = 1 point. Regulation loss = 0 points.
  • A tweaked version of the Olympic system. Regulation/OT win = 3 points. Shootout win = 2 points. Shootout loss = 1 point. Regulation/OT loss = 0 points.
  • A system someone on MHH whose name escapes me has been brandishing about with no loser points in it. Regulation/OT win = 2 points. Shootout win = 1 point. Any loss = 0 points.
  • Extremely simplified system. Any win = 2 points. Any loss = 0 points. (You could arbitrarily pick any number but 2 sticks with what's in place.)

For Comparison's Sake: The Current System

W = 2
OTL/SOL = 1
RL = 0

Advantages: A win is a win. Simple. Rewards teams who are not defeated during normal, 5v5 play, which is all you have in the playoffs.

Disadvantages: Some losses are better than others. Some games have inequal numbers of points awarded, inflating totals for teams who lose in overtime a lot. Also inspires teams to play to keep games tied late in the third, in order to be guaranteed at least 1 of 2 possible points. Plus equal treatment of a gimmick tiebreaker.

DIVISION WINNERS
Atlantic - New York Rangers
Northeast - Boston
Southeast - Florida
Central - St. Louis
Northwest - Vancouver (President's trophy)
Pacific - Phoenix

EAST PLAYOFFS
1. NYR vs. 8. Ottawa
2. BOS vs. 7. Washington
3. FLA vs. 6. New Jersey
4. Pittsburgh vs. 5. Philadelphia

WEST PLAYOFFS
1. VAN vs. 8. Los Angeles
2. STL vs. 7. San Jose
3. PHX vs. 6. Chicago
4. Nashville vs. 5. Detroit Presented By Amway

Olympic System - OT/SO 2

RW = 3
OTW/SOW = 2
OTL/SOL = 1
RL = 0

Advantages: All games are worth the same number of points (3). Rewards teams who are not defeated during normal, 5v5 play, which is all you have in the playoffs and punishes those who do win but don't until later, albeit slightly.

Disadvantages: Still has the loser point problem, although 1/3 is a bit better than 1/2 if you ask me. Gimmicky tiebreaker is still counted the same as legitimate (overtime) hockey.

DIVISION WINNERS
Atlantic - New York Rangers (on ROW)
Northeast - Boston
Southeast - Florida
Central - St. Louis (President's trophy)
Northwest - Vancouver
Pacific - Phoenix

EAST PLAYOFFS
1. NYR vs. 8. Ottawa
2. BOS vs. 7. Washington
3. FLA vs. 6. New Jersey
4. Pittsburgh vs. 5. Philadelphia

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: Nothing important. Some teams outside the playoffs shuffle around.

WEST PLAYOFFS
1. STL vs. 8. Los Angeles
2. VAN vs. 7. San Jose
3. PHX vs. 6. Chicago
4. Nashville vs. 5. Detroit Presented By Amway

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: St. Louis and Vancouver swap the top two spots. The Avs' position doesn't change; it's still 11th.

THE TAKEAWAY: That's what I usually find when I look at these numbers. Not a lot changes, maybe a playoff matchup or two.

Olympic System - SO 2

ROW = 3
SOW = 2
SOL = 1
RL/OTL = 0

Advantages: All games are worth the same number of points (3). Rewards teams who win during "real hockey" (read: not the shootout). Allows a Regulation Wins tiebreaker to pop in there.

Disadvantages: Still has a small loser point problem, but it's minimized to the shootout, where it can be thought of as winning or losing a tie.

DIVISION WINNERS
Atlantic - Pittsburgh
Northeast - Boston
Southeast - Florida
Central - St. Louis (President's trophy)
Northwest - Vancouver
Pacific - Phoenix

EAST PLAYOFFS
1. PIT vs. 8. Ottawa
2. BOS vs. 7. Washington
3. FLA vs. 6. New Jersey
4. New York Rangers vs. 5. Philadelphia

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: Pittsburgh edges out the Rangers for the top seed, robbing us of a Pens - Flyers first round matchup but leaving the possibility open that they meet in the conference semifinals. Again the sub-playoffs teams shuffle.

WEST PLAYOFFS
1. STL vs. 8. Los Angeles
2. VAN vs. 7. San Jose
3. PHX vs. 6. Chicago
4. Nashville vs. 5. Detroit Presented By Amway

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: St. Louis and Vancouver swap the top two spots. The Avs' position doesn't change; it's still 11th, but tied with Anaheim and a long way out at 102 (playoffs line was 117). Dallas is just super painfully close (2 points) to the playoffs rather than 6 out with fewer available in the first place; they may play out the season a bit differently.

THE TAKEAWAY: COPY AND PASTE POWERS UNITE! That's what I usually find when I look at these numbers. Not a lot changes, maybe a playoff matchup or two.

The No-Loser Point System

ROW = 2
SOW = 1
L = 0

Advantages: It's in the name. There's no loser point. Win or die. In that way it encourages teams to be a bit more aggressive in tied games, rather than trying their luck for either 0 or 1 points in the skills competition. Again... more on that later.

Disadvantages: Games are worth unequal amounts of points again: some are 2 and some are 1.

hold on to your hats for this one.

DIVISION WINNERS
Atlantic - New York Rangers (President's trophy)
Northeast - Boston
Southeast - Washington
Central - St. Louis
Northwest - Vancouver
Pacific - Phoenix

EAST PLAYOFFS
1. NYR vs. 8. Tampa Bay
2. BOS vs. 7. Ottawa
3. WSH vs. 6. New Jersey
4. Pittsburgh vs. 5. Philadelphia

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: Florida is gone. Not only do they not win the division, not only do they not even make the playoffs, but they aren't even close, in 10th and 3 points out. Washington takes their place in 3rd. Oddly, it's not Buffalo who squeaks in, but the Lightning, by two points.

WEST PLAYOFFS
1. STL (on head to head) vs. 8. Dallas
2. VAN vs. 7. San Jose (on head to head)
3. PHX vs. 6. Chicago
4. Nashville vs. 5. Detroit Presented By Amway

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: St. Louis and Vancouver swap the top two spots. LA falls three points out of the playoffs; Dallas takes the 8 seed instead. The Avs finish tenth, four points out.

THE TAKEAWAY: It physically hurts me because all three of my three least favorite teams are in and the Avs aren't, but YES!!! That's the kind of thing we're looking for when we run alternative systems. Different playoff teams and big shakeups. In a system that removes loser points, Florida disappears, and LA dips out, allowing Washington home ice advantage and Tampa Bay and Dallas unlikely playoff runs.

Extreme System

Win = 2 points
Loss = 0 points

Advantages: Keep It Simple, Stupid. A win is a win is a win. No loser points either. All games are worth the same amount.

Disadvantages: Shootouts are treated the same as blowouts again.

DIVISION WINNERS
Atlantic - New York Rangers (President's trophy) (on ROW)
Northeast - Boston
Southeast - Washington
Central - St. Louis
Northwest - Vancouver (President's trophy)
Pacific - San Jose
Also tied for the President's trophy - Pittsburgh

EAST PLAYOFFS
1. NYR vs. 8. Buffalo
2. BOS vs. 7. Ottawa
3. WSH vs. 6. Philadelphia
4. Pittsburgh vs. 5. New Jersey

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: Every matchup. Florida has vanished again, this time only to 9th. Buffalo squeaks in instead. Ottawa bumps up to 7th. Philadelphia and New Jersey flip flop.

WEST PLAYOFFS
1. VAN vs. 8. Dallas
2. STL vs. 7. Phoenix
3. SJS vs. 6. Chicago
4. Nashville vs. 5. Detroit Presented By Amway

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: San Jose wins the Pacific and LA drops out again, allowing Dallas in. This, coincidentally, is about what I expected the playoffs to look like a month ago. Colorado by the by is 9th, only 2 points out.

THE TAKEAWAY: When all that matters is winning, not how you do it, the picture is a lot different. Does that make it the right picture?

Final Disclaimer

These sorts of analyses are always interesting to do and share. However, they share one monumental flaw: the thing I've been constantly implying and referring to. These numbers all depend on the outcomes under different point systems being exactly the same. That seems a bit, well, stupid, to be honest. Would we see nearly as many overtime games if you got more points for winning in regulation, or if you got no points for losing in overtime? Speculation says no, probably not, but even that is still just speculation. As the offseason limps forward, I'm hoping to look at possible effects the current system might have on how the game is played and maybe even find some numbers to back it up. If I do you'll be the first to know.

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