The NHL will never be perfect. Everybody has ideas on how to alter the league to either improve its economics and make it more profitable or change rules around so the game is played at a different pace. We’ve heard about axing the draft or the salary cap to promote player freedom and movement, shrinking goalie pads or increasing the size of the nets to generate more scoring, and of course, there are radical ideas like getting rid of offsides or implementing some form of relegation or banishment to the AHL.
Obviously it isn’t easy to change the rules of a professional sports league as large as the NHL. That said, my New Year’s resolution for the league (and by New Year’s resolution, I mean put into effect next season) is changing the way points are awarded in the standings. This is a very, very simple fix and it’ll result in the best teams actually finishing at the top of the standings, and if we’re really lucky, it’ll make teams actually want to end games before they make it to overtime (and the shootout *shudders*).
SIMPLE WINS AND LOSSES FORMAT
The first solution, and admittedly, my preferred one, is to simply go with a wins and losses format for determining the standings. Just like the other three major sports leagues in North America, this format dumbs it right down and hands the winning team a tally in the win column, and the losing team a tally in the loss column. There’s no safety net. You don’t get some random point for doing your best and making it to overtime, your only objective is to win the game, and if you don’t, well, you don’t get a reward for it. Losing to a team 10-0 is no different than being edged out in a shootout. Wins and losses. Simple as that.
There isn’t much of a change in the actual standings to the simple wins and losses standings. What it does do, though, is expose the occasional team like Vancouver who’s overachieved in the standings thanks to making it to overtime so many times. It also makes jumping around in the standings a lot easier. Take a look at the log jam created in the Wild Card race, as Colorado, Nashville, Calgary, and Winnipeg are all within one win of each other, whereas in real life, they’re all behind the Preds by five or more points.
Moving forward with this could possibly work with the system right now, but I would also look to put an end to the shootout. A big flaw in the skills competition we saw last year was teams who weren’t good in them, like the Kings, massively suffered in the standings because of it. It doesn’t make sense that a vehicle in which we determine points in the standings is something that we refuse to use in the playoffs. Deciding a Stanley Cup game with a shootout? Ridiculous! Yet it determines who makes the playoffs and where they’re seeded right now, so if it’s good enough to do that, why isn’t it good enough to determine the winner of a playoff game? I mean, yeah, it’s fun and all, but the NBA doesn’t use a slam dunk or three-point competition to determine winners, and the MLB doesn’t use a home run derby to end a tied game after the 10th inning.
The shootout exists to get games finished that are going too long. If that’s the case, we could always just reward teams for doing just that, and hand out three points to a regulation winner, and then if it goes into overtime, chop it all up.
THREE-POINT GAME SYSTEM
I think this is the system that most people are in favour of adopting. It’s the system that’s used in international hockey, and aside from being a pretty huge pain in the ass to add together in your head when looking at a team’s record, it makes a lot of sense for changing the way games are played.
In this three-point game system, teams that can win a game in regulation are rewarded. Then when it goes to overtime, the three points that would have been rewarded to the winning team are split up. The nice thing about this is that it pushes for teams to do their best to win before regulation time ends. It also gives, you know, a legitimate reason for the loser point. In the current system, the loser point turns what would have been a two-point game into a three-point game, screwing the standings around and making it damn near impossible to jump over teams during a schedule of heavy inter-divisional play.
Getting three points out of a game when you’re chasing your opponents in the standings is a huge plus, even bigger than getting two and them getting zero. Of course, this doesn’t completely fix the safety net overtime issue, as teams who are ahead of their opponents in the standings can look at going into overtime as a chance to ensure the other team doesn’t get as many points as possible, while they still get a bonus point for showing up.
I mean, it’s a hell of a lot better than what we have now, but it certainly isn’t perfect. Regardless, I really hope the NHL takes a serious look in the mirror this New Year and realizes how easy of a fix its flawed standings are and then carries on with one of these two solutions. After that, maybe we can start talking about permanent four on four, getting rid of offsides, and relegation.