A quick look at what effect the loser point has had on the NHL standings

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 3:19 am by Cam Lewis


A win is a win and a loss is a loss. Why the NHL feels the need to reward teams with an extra point for losing a little bit later on in a game is completely beyond me. It made some sense back before the 2004-05 lockout put an end to tie games, but now, with every game resulting in a win, it’s unnecessary. Through the last five seasons, the loser point has had a relatively negligible effect on the standings, but the culture of rewarding teams with one point for losing a game after regulation waters down the incentive to win. 

The NHL standings format is flawed. Some suggest the league should shift to the IIHF style, in which a team who wins in regulation gets three points, a team who wins in overtime gets two points, a team who loses in overtime gets one point, and a team who loses in regulation gets none. Wow, that’s a mouthful, and it’s really ugly to look at on a standings sheet. I mean, if you’re going to go ahead and do that, you might as well give a team four points for winning by X amount of goals too, or give them negative one point for taking too many penalties just to make it as convoluted as possible. 

Another suggestion is bringing back ties. Yuck. Removing ties was one of the best things that came out of the 2004-05 lockout. Watching teams play the trap for the last five minutes of the game guarantee themselves and their opponent remained neutral at the end of the game was awful. I’m not a huge fan of the shootout because winning the shootout certainly doesn’t make you the better team. I’ve seen suggestions of continuous overtime, three on three overtime, and overtime without a goalie. For now, I would stick with shootouts until the league can figure out some way to make it so that lengthy continuous overtimes are acceptable. 

Let’s look back season by season at exactly what the loser point has done to the league. 

I organized the teams based on the true ranking standings rather than the division format and placed an asterisk next to each division winner. 

2013-14 Eastern Conference


2013-14 Western Conference


The effect of the loser point on the 2013-14 season is pretty minuscule aside from a couple of playoff series. The West stays pretty similar aside from Colorado and St. Louis swapping spots (I used goal differential for tie-breakers), while the only change in the East is the positions of Columbus and Philly. As a result, we would have seen the Penguins and Flyers and the Rangers and Blue Jackets square off in the first round. That Battle of Pennsylvania would have been amazing. Like I said, the Western playoff picture changes a little bit, Colorado likely won’t beat Chicago if they can’t beat the Wild. It’s all speculation from here.

2012-13 Eastern Conference


2012-13 Western Conference


It’s pretty incredible Pittsburgh went the entire 2012-13 season without an overtime loss. I guess it was a shortened season, but still, that’s pretty cool. Like 2013-14, the loser point didn’t do much to the Eastern playoff picture, aside from a minor shift between Washington and Boston in the true standings that would have been negated due to the division winner automatically getting a top three playoff seed rule. In the West, the Canucks finish in the fifth spot because of their record (but get bumped up to three because they won their division) and play Minnesota rather than San Jose in the first round. Chicago plays Detroit rather than Minnesota, Anaheim plays San Jose, and L.A. plays St. Louis. With this new playoff picture, things in the West would probably end up completely differently than they actually did (aside from L.A and St. Louis). Regardless, Chicago was going to beat anybody anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

2011-12 Eastern Conference


2011-12 Western Conference


Yeah, that’s right. The loser point is the reason the Los Angeles Kings won their first ever Stanley Cup. Had there been no point awarded for an overtime loss in this vacuum universe, that Cup the Kings think they won, that never would have happened. The loser point also bumps the Coyotes down far enough that San Jose takes the Pacific Division and plays Chicago in the first round. So the playoffs are totally different in this reality. Vancouver pays Dallas instead, and I doubt the Stars pull of the amazing upset the Kings did. St. Louis plays the Coyotes, so it’s unlikely Phoenix makes it to the Western Conference Finals like they did, and San Jose gets home ice advantage in a series with Chicago, which is a toss up in my opinion. So instead of seeing the Kings rip through the playoffs, we get a completely different winner. In the East, the Panthers lose their very unearned playoff spot, as they lose essentially nine wins worth of points in overtime losses and finish ninth in the conference. This is another scenario that makes me hate the division winner top three rule. The Penguins and Rangers tie for the best record in the conference, but one of them has to play the Devils in the first round instead of Buffalo, which is really unfair. As a result, there’s also a pretty good chance New Jersey doesn’t make it to the finals since they don’t get to player the king of the loser division in the first round. Pittsburgh beats Buffalo, rather than losing to the Flyers, while Boston probably doesn’t choke against Ottawa like they did with Washington, but who knows. With these standings, it’s impossible we see L.A and New Jersey in the finals.

2010-11 Eastern Conference


2010-11 Western Conference


The playoffs in the East are totally different this year. Pittsburgh finishes first and gets Buffalo in the first round instead of Tampa Bay, Washington gets Montreal so we lose the classic Boston vs Montreal matchup that we got to see as Boston takes on the Rangers, and Tampa faces the Flyers. This is really tough to predict, but Boston is still likely the team to beat in the East. The standings in the West change a little bit, but not enough for Vancouver to be dethroned as Conference Champions. The nice thing about this season is all of the teams in the West are given the playoff spots they deserved, as nobody gets shafted by the Division Champion rule. 

2009-10 Eastern Conference


2009-10 Western Conference


In the East, two series remain the same and two swap. Washington loses to Montreal, Pittsburgh still beats Ottawa, but Buffalo plays Philly and New Jersey plays Boston. It’s hard to say if the Flyers and Bruins would still have their upset magic in them with their new opponents, which could completely change the outcome of the Conference, as the Flyers ended up making it to the finals. In the West, some things shift around, including Colorado grabbing the eighth spot and St. Louis on the outside looking in, but Chicago and San Jose still meet in the Conference Finals. 

In general, the loser point hasn’t had much of an effect on the standings over the past five seasons. Maybe later I’ll go through and see if the IIHF model does, but I need a break from staring at this computer screen. The one thing I did notice going through all this is just how big a pain in the ass the division champ rule was, seeing so many teams get shafted having to play another good team. The new playoff format with the divisions and the wild card may not be perfect, but it’s nice not seeing teams like Florida finish in third in the conference while the second best team finishes fourth. 

To finish off, the one thing I really like about the pure win-loss format is how it makes the bad teams look even worse. Like, Toronto can’t say they finished eight games below .500 when they actually finished 22 games below .500.