Kats Krunch: Point System Analysis


Goals For in proportion are trending down since lockout

The point system comes into scrutiny earlier and earlier each season. Regulation time stalemates are badges of honor, garnering ‘at least a point’ and driving fans crazy with the ‘loser point.’

Aside from minor differences, the point system doesn’t really matter. It’s not about points and systems.

It’s about motivation.

It’s the reason the NHL changed the end-of-season tie-breaking measure from overall wins to regulation wins. The target was motivation to win, not point systems.

Players and coaches will take measures to bank available points, even more so in this age of perceived parity. If there are two points for a regulation win, teams will win in regulation. Offer a point for a 60-minute draw, teams will bank the point.

For the NHL, the idea behind shootouts was to eliminate tie games, the ultimate sister kiss.

Cutting down on ties provoked the NHL to alter the traditional game three times, two to boost winning, and three to eliminate tie games altogether with the implementation of a shootout.

Changes stemmed from the rise of tie games from expansion to the first change in the 1983-84 season.

The NHL introduced overtime in 1983-84, to motivate teams to go for the win. Winners earned a full two points, while a tie after overtime split a point each. From first expansion in 1967-68 to the 1982-83 season, teams played 60 minutes while tie games during that span increased from 76 games (17.12%) to 165 at its peak in 1980-81.

Number of Ties post-1967 expansion

Expansion affected the total number of ties as the NHL bloated from the Original Six to 17 teams before swallowing up four WHA franchises in 1979-80. The percentage of games ending in a tie, however, increased from 16% to just fewer than 20% at its peak.

Percentage of tie games per season post expansion

The introduction of overtime decreased the amount of ties to a low of 79 in 1985-86, with 21 NHL teams, dipping to the lowest post-expansion percentage of 9.4%.

There was a downside.

Expansion in the 1990’s (excluding lockout shortened 1994-95) further increased real amount of tied games, while remaining consistent percentage-wise league-wide.

The amount of games requiring overtime – to bank the guaranteed point – skyrocketed. Teams sat back to enter overtime and play for the point, with a conservative approach to offense in the extra frame.

In 1983-84, 16.67% of games were tied after 60 minutes, requiring overtime. By 1991-92, the percentage had climbed to almost 20, and blowing up to over 26% in 1992-93, only to creep further towards 30% of games by 1998. Something needed to be done. And the NHL addressed that need.

Percentage of teams entering overtime since introduction

The point system via overtime was changed to start in the 1999-00 season. The addition of the current day ‘loser point’ was actually meant to entice teams to win, with a guaranteed point banked and an extra point up for grabs.

The banked point was incentive to go for the win in the dead puck era, instead of sitting back and playing for the tie, with the fear of losing a guaranteed point. It was meant as a progressive measure in an era of decreased scoring – a theme that is being revisited in the modern day NHL, to the league’s detriment.

The alterations curbed the rise of tied games immediately, as well as the amount of games requiring overtime. Late ‘90’s-early 2000 expansion, however, pushed tie games and overtime for the guaranteed point to higher levels.

Tie games were officially eliminated in post lockout rule changes and have never been an issue again.

The real evil became the point system and ‘three-point games.’

Post Lockout

The chart below indicates the amount of overtime and shootout games. The proportionality of OT to SO games on a season-by-season basis is fairly clear as more teams are winning in OT rather than sitting back and going for the win in a shootout.

Overtime/Shootouts post Lockout

There is another disturbing trend occurring post lockout that affects the point system.

With the backlash on three-point games, more and more teams are beginning to understand the rules of the post lockout as well as how to manipulate them. Penalties are down significantly from the inaugural post-lockout season and teams are adapting to the speed and pace of the game. No longer are frivolous stick fouls getting called and no longer are teams banking on a power play to provide for scoring.

The 2010-11 Washington Capitals are a great example of understanding the necessity of playing tighter defensively and not relying solely on scoring power or the man advantage to win games.

The New Jersey Devils are another great example of the relevance/importance of a sturdy defensive game. During their disastrous start to the 2010-11 season, the Devils averaged 3.14 goals-against per game with a record of 10-29-2.

After January 9, they sported a sparkling 29-7-3 record with a 1.72 goals against average. The coaching change added to the 34 games with only six wins requiring more than 60 minutes regulation time.

Reconfiguring the Devils into the tightly wound defensive club has made a big difference. They even made a spectacular run at a playoff spot and not only won back their fan base, but added others.

It’s no wonder that the general trend indicates that goals against is in decline. If further filtered on an annual basis, the goals against figure is lower for those clubs that make the post season, compared to clubs eliminated from the playoffs.

Clearly, less goals against is a winning formula, yet runs opposite of the higher scoring desired by NHL corporate.

The following chart indicates the trends in goals against for the entire NHL, post-lockout, broken down by goals against in regulation wins, OT wins and SO wins.

Goals Against in Wins broken down into Regulation, OT, SO games

The NHL is trending downwards in both goals against in wins and generally goals scored are also in decline (considering they are directly proportional, it’s no surprise). If the current pace holds, (shootout goals not counted in the totals), the NHL will have the second lowest goals scored since the lockout.

Goals For in proportion are trending down since lockout

Points System

In the grand scheme, while most commentary revolved around the inadequacy and deficiency of the current point system, repercussions of enduring other teams playing three-point games does not have an immediate solution.

Teams should be focusing on Wins in regulation. Or, at least, build a club that can win in regulation; tight defensively with a potent enough offense to score early and stifle comebacks.

But in today’s NHL, even a three-point lead isn’t a safeguard, blowing leads with the crackdown on obstruction and clutching/grabbing.

The overwhelming consensus is that the point system itself needs an overhaul. Instead of viewing each individual club’s shortcomings in winning games in regulation, other teams playing in three-point games get the focus. An overhaul includes the majority favorite as a replacement: 3 points for Win, 2 points for an OT win (perhaps with an extra point for enticement to win in OT) and 1 for a shootout win as the best answer.

I don’t agree.

Rewarding clubs by weighting regulation wins higher does change the motivation to win in 60 minutes, but I feel it is for the worse.

Teams will find a way to limit extra time games, including tightening up defensively and winning at all costs including a tighter defensive game a direct polar opposite to the NHL commitment to open up scoring chances and induce a higher goals-per-game.

The general trend downwards in goals against and goals for is indicative of the dependency on timely scoring and tighter defense to win in regulation and overtime, and that’s in this current environment.

The conclusion is, to ensure the three point regulation time win, teams will tighten up at all costs and learn to win ugly, possibly even reintroducing the dreaded trap with a worst-case scenario of a re-emergence of a modified dead puck era.

How would that sit with fans? How bad would it be for teams? How fast would the NHL resort to corporate headshots?

Generally, the point system does not matter. It’s the motivation of winning in regulation that will make teams fight it out.

Forcing Motivation

I believe that in the current point system the motivation to win in regulation is important enough that teams have responded in kind.

A way to curtail enhanced regulation time motivation as per a three-point regulation win is to maintain the status quo on the set up of the point system for regulation wins and overtime.

That is, two points for a regulation and overtime win, with an extra point handed out to the overtime losing team.

Keeping this system ensures teams are motivated to continue to make the efforts to win games, not just sit on leads with a defensively heavy strategy and limit the possibility of falling into more low-scoring, tight checking, low scoring chance contests.

Just like the NHL introduced measures to finally eliminate ties, they could further tweak playing for the extra point in a shootout as a detriment.

The introduction of the shootout was for a definitive end to games, but now, with a slight modification, teams could be more willing to go all out and play for the wins in regulation or overtime.

To do this, a modification would give the shootout winner a single point, while taking away the point earned from a tie in regulation to the losing club.

To further enhance that, teams currently are punished with their ‘loser’ point taken away should they pull the goaltender in overtime to go for the win. That rule would have to be eliminated, knowing that there is a good reason not to enter a shootout.

While there are still holes in this proposed system (and unlikely an original idea), it further proves that whatever system is in place does not really matter.

The NHL is a living, breathing entity. It evolves into bigger, stronger, faster and devolves into head shots and shenanigans. As teams understand their working environment they learn to win in ways unimagined in the past.

Teams will all play within the confines of their own rules and manipulate the system to serve their own specific needs, regardless of shootouts, three-point games and headshots.

There is simply one way to overcome any issues with regards to three-point games.

Build a team that wins in regulation and it won’t matter what is happening with other clubs and their three pointers.

Katshockey at www.mapleleafshotstove.com
Twitter: @KatsHockey