While the NHL does not do many things wrong, the point system has its flaws. The current setup that awards two points for a win, regardless of whether it comes in regulation, overtime or in the shootout, and a point for an overtime or shootout loss, has created problems. Some teams that qualify for the playoffs have fewer wins than teams below them in the standings because they have more, what is considered to be, ‘loser points.’
The loser point is nothing new. When ties were still a part of the game before the shootout was introduced for the 2005-06 season, games resulted in a single point for both teams. However, in addition to missing out on a playoff berth, the loser point also causes problems in the way the game is played, particularly in the last few minutes of the third period.
In a tie game late in the third, most teams will opt for defence and avoid risky plays in order to ensure that they get at least a point, which can make for a boring end to the game. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case this season because every game is against a division opponent, but it will be a factor again in 2021-22 once the divisions go back to normal. Still, while playing for a point isn’t a problem this season, the loser point has had a major impact on some teams, particularly in the North Division with the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, which I will explain.
The point is not to make excuses for the Flames or Canucks. Neither has been very good this season, and they both need to ramp it up if they want to earn a playoff spot. The Flames are sixth in the division with 33 points in 33 games, trailing the Montreal Canadiens, who hold the fourth and final playoff spot and have played one fewer game, by four points. The Canucks trail the Canadiens by two points with 35 points in 36 contests. Yet, both teams have more wins than the Canadiens, who have 14; the Canucks lead the charge with 16 wins, while the Flames have 15. However, the Habs are ahead because they’ve earned nine loser points this season.
The Canadiens’ nine losses after regulation lead the Scotia North Division and the NHL. The only team with fewer wins in the division is the Ottawa Senators with 10. Despite this, Montreal is one point behind the Winnipeg Jets, who have 18 wins and only two loser points, five points behind the Edmonton Oilers, who have zero loser points, and five points behind the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs, who also have just two loser points. After a red hot start to the season, the Habs have struggled, but they have found ways to get at least a point which has kept them in a playoff position.
How to Fix It
There are a few ways to fix the NHL point system. The first would be just to scrap the loser point entirely, meaning that a loss regardless of whether it is in regulation, overtime, or a shootout would result in zero points. The other, and one that I am a fan of, is the three-point system; teams would be awarded three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or a shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. This would give teams the motivation to play hard in the final few minutes of a tie game with the extra point on the line.
The three-point system would also still give a slight reward to teams who lose in overtime or a shootout, which seems fair.
Problem to Address in Offseason
This is an issue the NHL has ignored for too long and needs to be addressed during the next offseason. Getting rid of the tie was a step in the right direction, but they need to continue to work on this and change the system. As it stands, the NHL rewards teams for failure, and that should not be the case. At the end of the day, all that matters is wins, and it is not right that a team like the Canadiens ranks ahead of their North Division rivals with fewer wins.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.