The NHL: The League That Rewards Losing

The NHL has a growing problem that won’t go away anytime soon, it appears.

The problem is that losing teams keep getting rewarded in some capacity. Whether you are talking about losing in overtime, or receiving higher odds at the draft lottery, losing has its perks in this league. That is a dangerous place to operate from given the effects it has on teams and outcomes.

Winning should always come with the highest possible reward, period. Teams that go about their business the right way deserve a reward for their efforts.

Instead, teams who lose after regulation get points. They lost, but they get rewarded with style points. Some teams are even good enough at losing with style that it helps them jump other teams in the standings, even though they have more losses than someone behind them.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how you win. You still get two points no matter what. But if you lose, you could still get points depending how you lost.

A loss is a loss. Teams should not get a reward for how they lose a game, especially if the winning team doesn’t get rewarded the same. How do you fix this? You fix it by rewarding winning. It starts with regulation wins.

Many around the league have called for three-point regulation wins. This is long overdue. This is the best way to reward someone who wins the game in 60 minutes. If the game isn’t decided in 60 minutes, then give each team a point and play overtime as normal. Winning team gets an extra point.

In this case, you are equally rewarding winning as you are losing. If you win in regulation, you get three points, they get zero points. If you can’t win in regulation, you shouldn’t get the same kind of reward, hence getting two points instead of three.

The league loves how close the standings are. Some think changing to three-point regulation wins will spread teams out. Actually, the opposite would happen. Teams who are six points out would need just two games to potentially catch up, not three. This makes for much more compelling hockey, when teams go all-in to get three points. The standings will still have teams bunched together. But this way, you have a new level of excitement that is good for the game. Most importantly, winning gets rewarded.

The Draft Lottery

Here’s the other place where losing has its perks. If you finish in last, you have the best chance of landing the No. 1 pick. Although the odds are still against you in the current format (20% chance to win), it is still better than any other position. In addition, you can’t pick worse than fourth.

This has dramatic effects. Teams at the bottom of the standings will sell at the deadline to “tank” their way to the bottom. Teams should never, ever have incentive to lose. But as is, losing could lead you to a franchise player.

Look at it from teams who do keep playing to win. The Columbus Blue Jackets spent much of the season in last place. As of this writing, they are in 25th place. They have not, and will not tank. But, because of the current structure of the league, their winning is actually not helping them in terms of their draft position. As they keep winning, their lottery odds are dropping faster than Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff. Again, winning is not rewarded. Even worse, it hurts them.

It’s time the NHL fix the draft lottery system to make it fair for everyone.

How does this get fixed? That’s easy too. Even out the lottery odds. You can do that in one of two ways. You can make it so that every non-playoff team has a 1 in 14 chance to win. That way, tanking doesn’t give you an advantage. Or, if you want to keep some semblance of worse teams having a slightly better chance, tweak the odds as follows:

If you finish 25th-30th, you have a 10% chance of winning.

If you finish 17th-24th, you have a 5% chance of winning.

In this model, finishing 25th has the same odds as finishing 30th. There is no extra incentive for finishing dead last. And, there’s a 40% chance someone from 17th-24th wins. This ensures winning doesn’t hurt you.

The other part of this is the schedule. Imagine if you are a team fighting for a playoff spot, and you have three teams “tanking” on your schedule. Now imagine the team you are fighting for the playoff spot with does not have those teams on their schedule since they played earlier in the year. Yes, you play your schedule. But you get those teams at an easier time. Tanking could help someone get in the playoffs that otherwise would have had a hard time.

Morgan Rielly
Teams who play the Leafs will have an easier time winning games down the stretch. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the end, losing should never lead to a positive outcome. This current model in the NHL not only leads to positive outcomes for losing, it also encourages losing. This must change for the sake and integrity of the game. Not doing so will only continue to tarnish the league.

It’s time to start rewarding winning. It will make the game better for everyone involved.