Fixing the NHL Points System and Re-Seeding the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Time to Fix the NHL Points System

In order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams spend the entire year working to collect points in the standings. Unlike other professional sports leagues in North America, like the NBA, MLB, and NFL, the NHL uses a points system rather than just comparing total amounts of wins amassed. At a glance, the NHL points system makes decent sense. A win is worth two points and a loss zero, but the flaw in the system is how points are awarded when a game goes to overtime.

Upon reaching overtime, both teams playing receive one point in the standings. The winner through overtime (or shootout if the five minute overtime period ends without a goal) then receives a second point. This creates a third point in all overtime games, making them essentially worth more than a game that ends in regulation. The winner takes home two points as usual, but the loser still retains a point.

Why the Points System Needs to Change

The fact that an overtime game carries more weight than a regulation game unfairly weights some games as essentially more valuable than others during the regular season. This is a dilemma that has existed for far too long in the NHL. Games become stale in the final five to ten minutes of a tied game, as both teams want to get to overtime for the free point. Fans notice this too, especially as the season winded down this year and tons of games went into overtime. There was an obvious change in pace in third periods, especially when games were close or tied. Far too often it appears both teams are more interested in getting the guaranteed one point than fighting to snatch two before regulation ends.

Not only that, but there have been multiple instances where a team will qualify for the post-season despite having fewer wins than one or more teams that fail to make it. This year, for instance, the Philadelphia Flyers got in ahead of the Florida Panthers, despite having 2 fewer wins. They earned 14 points by way of overtime and shootout losses, propelling them into the playoffs (and ahead of both wild card teams, despite having two and three less wins than those teams too). Those 14 overtime losses are essentially worth the same as seven wins…

The league started awarding the automatic overtime points in the 1999-2000 season. This is actually not a bad idea at its core. After all, being able to force a game into overtime at least shows that both teams played “equally” well. For example, losing a game 2-1 in overtime definitely shows a better performance than losing a game 5-0 in regulation. For that reason, it makes sense to reward teams for at least getting a game to go to overtime before losing. However, the amount of points awarded in all types of games just needs to adjust a bit to more properly reward teams that win in regulation.

The 3-2-1-0 System

To reduce the frequency of stalemate play between teams late in the third when tied, while also maintaining the reward for at least forcing overtime, the NHL points system should adapt a 3-2-1-0 weighting style. What this means is that a regulation win would be worth 3 points, an overtime or shootout win worth 2 points, an overtime or shootout loss 1 point, and a regulation loss 0 points.

Suddenly, just forcing overtime is far less attractive than a regulation win. It would take three overtime losses to equate to one win. Given how unpredictable the 3-on-3 overtime is, not to mention the shootout which is essentially a coin flip, it becomes a much larger gamble to just settle for overtime and hope for the best.

The biggest advantage to this system is that it rewards winning to a better degree. A regulation win signifies a definite upper hand in performance on that night. Blowouts, multi-goal leads, and third-period heroics would be more heavily weighted. This makes forcing overtime essentially like “stealing” a point or two from the other team in the standings. That is a much more sensible system than suddenly creating a third point, as we see in the current system.

Re-Seeding the Playoffs with the 3-2-1-0 System

Below is the standings from the 2017-18 NHL season re-done using the 3-2-1-0 points system. Not all teams are included, just those which finished above the .500 mark using the current system. This is simply because the leftover teams were still significantly far from the playoff race.


Central Division

Nashville Predators = 159 points ; Winnipeg Jets = 157 ; Minnesota Wild = 139 ; Colorado Avalanche = 130 ; St. Louis Blues = 127 ; Dallas Stars = 125

Pacific Division

Vegas Golden Knights = 148 points ; Anaheim Ducks = 136 ; San Jose Sharks = 135 ; Los Angeles Kings = 132 ; Calgary Flames = 112


Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals = 143 points ; Pittsburgh Penguins = 133 points ; New Jersey Devils = 130 points ; Philadelphia Flyers = 129 points ; Columbus Blue Jackets = 127 points ; Carolina Hurricanes = 113 points

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning = 155 points ; Boston Bruins = 153 points ; Toronto Maple Leafs = 142 points ; Florida Panthers = 134 points


Nashville Predators (CEN1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (WWC2)

Winnipeg Jets (CEN2) vs. Minnesota Wild (CEN3)

Vegas Golden Knights (PAC1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (WWC1)

Anaheim Ducks (PAC2) vs. San Jose Sharks (PAC3)

Washington Capitals (MET1) vs. Florida Panthers (EWC2)

Pittsburgh Penguins (MET2) vs. New Jersey Devils (MET3)

Tampa Bay Lightning (ATL1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (EWC1)

Boston Bruins (ATL2) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (ATL3)

So, as you can see, the only change as far as qualifying teams goes is that the Florida Panthers would be in. Interestingly enough, the Columbus Blue Jackets would fall out. Despite the Flyers being the team that simply won less than either of these two teams, the Blue Jackets had many of their wins come in overtime. They fell out because of just how often they went to overtime rather than being able to settle games in regulation.

Playoff match-ups don’t change at all in the Western Conference, as seeding is identical on that side. The East, though, sees three different match-ups than we actually have in reality. This is important to notice, as the 3-2-1-0 system would not completely uproot the structure of the league. Only one of 16 playoff teams would change, and otherwise it is just some shuffling of first round match-ups.

A Superior System

At the end of the day, this system better reflects each team’s performance over the season. The teams that qualified for the post-season were the teams that both won more often than the rest of the league, and did so in regulation. This essentially takes into account the quality of those wins, since again a regulation win reflects a “better” win than an overtime or shootout one does.

In the 3-2-1-0 system, the Presidents Trophy-winning Nashville Predators would still be the league’s best team with a record of 42-11-11-18. (This is laid out in the order of the 3-2-1-0 system, so reg. wins, OT wins, OT losses, and reg. losses). The Florida Panthers squeak into the post-season thanks to a 38-6-30-8, demonstrating a clear ability to win games in regulation. The Blue Jackets fall out because they went 30-15-30-7. The Avalanche (35-8-30-9) still edge out the Blues (33-11-29-9).

Time to Make a Change

The point here is that the playoffs would better reflect teams that were able to win more often than lose, and also get it done in regulation more often than in overtime. Since there’s no advantage to overtime in the playoffs, this points system would also better predict the teams more able to succeed in the postseason. Qualifying thanks to overtime losses is no way to generate playoff success, as a loss is a loss when playing for the Cup.

It is time for the league to correct their points system, and this is absolutely the most logical way to do so.


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11 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. You dont have do 3-2-1-0

    it easier way & wold keep existing records intact

    2 points for win in regulation time / Zero points for loss
    2 points for overtime loss / Zero for loss
    1 point for shoot-out win / Zero for loss

    should never get any points for Loss

    1. I like all games having the same value. … i don’t like now that some games are worth 2 and some 3.

      I don’t like yours either, with some games at 1 and some at 0.

      I would rather all games worth 3.

  2. Do all the officials spend their time trying how to ruin the game of hockey? Many lifelong fans from several places across the country refuse to buy seats, let alone season tickets. It’s even getting to be a luxury to watch on TV or computer. Too many poorly thought out rules, tons of bad calls, too many expensive tickets, all ruining the wonderful game of hockey. Signed, Original Six

  3. We make this too hard. Just 2 points for a win (no matter what) and 0 for a loss (no matter what). Baseball, football, and basketball all get it.

    1. How about this for simple: 1 point for a win, 0 points for a loss. The teams with the most wins go to the playoffs. If 2 teams are tied, the team with more regular time wins is chosen.

  4. The other leagues handle ties by continuing regular play to get an absolute decision. This usually doesn’t take too long, perhaps except for Baseball where multiple extra innings are sometimes needed. Don’t get me started on Football where a coin toss determining first possession in overtime can be the deciding factor!
    Hockey, however, has proven to be harder to decide with regular overtime play. Just look at the length of overtime games sometimes required in the playoffs. The league does not want to put its fans through this on a regular basis, so the 3 player overtime & shootout methods are used. This is more expeditious, like Soccer, but shootout unfaily heaped the responsibity on goaltenders.
    The 3-2-1 method is more reflective of the actual effort and appropriate reward. Either that or revert back to the old method of 1 point each for a tie and no additional play or shootouts required.

  5. I’ve been saying this for years. Most importantly, 3-2-1-0 would make for more exciting regular season hockey! Teams would fight for the 3 point win in regulation right to the last second, rather than playing it safe for that overtime point. It’s getting seriously ridiculous that the NHL has not implemented this change yet.

  6. In soccer, it’s;

    3 points for a win
    1 point for a tie
    0 points for a loss

    This makes sense to me, because you will need 3 ties for one win. A tie is rewarded just 2 points in total, instead of 3. Overtime/Penalty Kicks are only used in knockout tournaments.

    If you want to keep NHL records intact, you could opt for;

    2 points for a win (any).
    1/2 point for a tie (lost in overtime). Or no more ties at all.
    0 points for a loss.

  7. Every league except the NHL does it right. Number of wins. Period. Yeah there are tiebreakers and whatever. But it’s wins. Losses don’t count for shit, ever.

  8. I had the same idea but it has evolved over the years. Instead of the 3-2-1-0 system, which can lead to discouraging runaway results in the standings… we go even closer to a .pct ranking as in baseball, basketball. You keep the points award system in tact, the flaw in this system is there is in the point allowed by the winner of the ot/shootout is not counted as a point allowed, there is no such stat available and there really should be for a few reasons. Starting with what you pointed out, it is mathemattically possible for a team under .500 to be regular season champions while a team above .500 doesn’t make the playoffs, though in reality only a small % of this anamoly would shape out over the season, we do see it’s affects and the standings would change quite a bit if this were reflected. POiNTS DiFFERENTIAL, points earned minus points allowed should be the deciding stat in the standings, not PTS as has always been, the extra point in overtime games makes PTS alone as the primary standings ranking an obsolete practice. PDIFF is as overdue as the extra ot point is old.

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