What if the NHL had a 3-2-1-0 points system?

The NHL points system is a little… odd, to say the least.

I mean, you get points for losing. That’s really all you have to say to question it. That doesn’t make sense.

But it does create the interesting spectacle of three-point games, which contributes to intense playoff races. That’s a large part of the justification for the system, and it’s been going strong for several years now.

There’s another points system that the NHL could adopt instead, though: three points for a win, two points for an overtime win, one point for a shootout win, and no points for a loss. The idea behind it: you don’t reward teams for losing, and you don’t encourage them to just wait out the clock and play for overtime instead of playing to win, either.

Would it make that much of a difference in the standings, though?

For this exercise, I’ve decided to look only at the Western Conference since the wild card format was introduced. It’s not a big sample size, but it is a snapshot of what would have changed in recent years – particularly as the Flames were either tanking, or fighting for a playoff spot of their own.

Any changes in the standings are italicized.

2013-14

2-0-1 points system 3-2-1-0 points system
Team W L OT PTS Team W OTW SOW L PTS
Central Top 3 Colorado 52 22 8 112 Colorado 37 10 5 30 136
St. Louis 52 23 7 111 St. Louis 40 3 9 30 135
Chicago 46 21 15 107 Chicago 39 1 6 36 125
Pacific Top 3 Anaheim 54 20 8 116 Anaheim 44 7 3 28 149
San Jose 51 22 9 111 San Jose 37 4 10 31 129
Los Angeles 46 28 8 100 Los Angeles 34 4 8 36 118
Wildcard Minnesota 43 27 12 98 Dallas 34 2 4 42 110
Dallas 40 31 11 91 Minnesota 32 3 8 39 110
Out of Playoffs Phoenix 37 30 15 89 Nashville 33 3 2 44 107
Nashville 38 32 12 88 Phoenix 28 3 6 45 96
Winnipeg 37 35 10 84 Vancouver 25 6 5 46 92
Vancouver 36 35 11 83 Winnipeg 24 5 8 45 90
Calgary 35 40 7 77 Calgary 21 6 7 47 82
Edmonton 29 44 9 67 Edmonton 20 5 4 53 74

In 2013-14, there aren’t any real changes in the playoffs. Dallas and Minnesota swap spots – eliminating the tiebreaker of ROW, and going with just regular wins as the first time breaker – meaning Minnesota would face off against the Ducks instead of the Avalanche (and probably lose), while Dallas would get the Avalanche (and have a better shot at advancing).

That’s about it, though. Nashville would have been a win closer to making the playoffs, but still wouldn’t have made it; Phoenix would have had significantly less hope. Vancouver and Winnipeg’s draft positions would be affected, but they may have ended up selecting Jake Virtanen and Nikolaj Ehlers respectively, anyway.

All in all, though? Not much changes.

2014-15

2-0-1 points system 3-2-1-0 points system
Team W L OT PTS Team W OTW SOW L PTS
Central Top 3 St. Louis 51 24 7 109 St. Louis 37 5 9 31 130
Nashville 47 25 10 104 Minnesota 38 4 4 36 126
Chicago 48 28 6 102 Nashville 34 8 6 35 124
Pacific Top 3 Anaheim 51 24 7 109 Anaheim 35 8 8 31 129
Vancouver 48 29 5 101 Vancouver 36 6 6 34 126
Calgary 45 30 7 97 Calgary 32 9 4 37 118
Wildcard Minnesota 46 28 8 100 Chicago 36 3 9 34 123
Winnipeg 43 26 13 99 Los Angeles 37 1 2 42 115
Out of Playoffs Los Angeles 40 27 15 95 Winnipeg 34 4 7 39 111
Dallas 41 31 10 92 Dallas 33 4 4 41 111
Colorado 39 31 12 90 San Jose 34 2 4 42 110
San Jose 40 33 9 89 Colorado 27 2 10 43 95
Edmonton 24 44 14 62 Edmonton 17 2 5 58 60
Arizona 24 50 8 56 Arizona 14 5 5 58 57

There are more changes this time around. The Flames still make the playoffs – but in this scenario so do the Kings, who Calgary eliminated in the penultimate game of the regular season using the 2-0-1 system. Winnipeg fails to advance.

Chicago also no longer finishes top three in their division, Minnesota shooting way up to claim that spot. 

The Flames still play the Canucks, though – but in the second round, they would face either Anaheim or Chicago. It’s difficult to imagine them making it past either of those teams, so not much else changes.

The point separation is a little greater, but then, wins are worth more, so it’s not as difficult to close the gap. All in all, though? Still not that much changes.

2015-16

2-0-1 points system 3-2-1-0 points system
Team W L OT PTS Team W OTW SOW L PTS
Central Top 3 Dallas 50 23 9 109 Dallas 42 6 2 32 140
St. Louis 49 24 9 107 Chicago 36 10 1 35 129
Chicago 47 26 9 103 St. Louis 36 8 5 33 129
Pacific Top 3 Anaheim 46 25 11 103 Anaheim 39 4 3 36 128
Los Angeles 48 28 6 102 Los Angeles 34 12 2 34 128
San Jose 46 30 6 98 San Jose 37 5 4 36 125
Wildcard Nashville 41 27 14 96 Nashville 35 2 4 41 113
Minnesota 38 33 11 87 Minnesota 34 1 3 44 107
Out of Playoffs Colorado 39 39 4 82 Colorado 33 2 4 43 107
Arizona 35 39 8 78 Arizona 29 5 1 47 98
Winnipeg 35 39 8 78 Winnipeg 29 3 3 47 96
Calgary 35 40 7 77 Calgary 24 9 2 47 92
Vancouver 31 38 13 75 Vancouver 22 4 5 51 79
Edmonton 31 43 8 70 Edmonton 20 7 4 51 78

The Flames still end up with a pretty high draft pick (although they’re noticeably much better than the Canucks or Oilers). As for meaningful standings changes, Chicago and St. Louis switch home ice in the playoffs. That’s it.

2016-17

So it looks like the current system is actually doing a pretty good job. Yes, it could be better – that whole “reward for losing” thing remains odd – but even if you change the system to be geared more towards winning, the standings really aren’t all that affected. Maybe the on-ice games would be, but will alone can only take a team so far.

Above are all completed seasons, though. What does it look like about halfway through the season? Does the race itself look much different? The Flames are in the midst of a playoff race; this is highly relevant to my interests.

Standings up to date following the night of Jan. 6.

2-0-1 points system 3-2-1-0 points system
Team W L OT PTS Team W OTW SOW L PTS
Central Top 3 Chicago – 42 GP 25 12 5 55 Minnesota 20 3 1 13 67
Minnesota – 37 GP 24 9 4 52 Chicago 18 5 2 17 66
St. Louis – 39 GP 20 14 5 45 St. Louis 15 4 1 19 54
Pacific Top 3 Anaheim – 41 GP 20 12 8 50 San Jose 17 4 2 16 61
San Jose – 39 GP 23 14 2 48 Anaheim 18 1 2 20 58
Edmonton – 40 GP 20 13 7 47 Calgary 16 3 2 20 56
Wildcard Calgary – 41 GP 21 18 2 44 Edmonton 16 2 2 20 54
Vancouver – 41 GP 20 18 3 43 Winnipeg 14 3 2 22 50
Out of Playoffs Los Angeles – 39 GP 19 16 4 42 Nashville 16 0 1 22 49
Nashville – 39 GP 17 15 7 41 Los Angeles 11 7 1 20 48
Winnipeg – 41 GP 19 19 3 41 Vancouver 11 5 4 21 47
Dallas – 39 GP 16 15 8 40 Dallas 14 2 0 23 46
Arizona – 39 GP 11 22 6 28 Colorado 8 5 0 26 34
Colorado – 39 GP 13 25 1 27 Arizona 6 2 3 28 25

Here we go: in the middle of the race, there are way more changes:

  • Minnesota has taken the Central lead from Chicago.
  • San Jose has the lead over Anaheim.
  • Calgary is ahead of Edmonton, out of a wildcard spot and in the top three of the Pacific.
  • Winnipeg has kicked Los Angeles out of its playoff spot, and Nashville is a little closer than they actually are.
  • Vancouver remains further out (although one win would be enough to vault them back into things).
  • Colorado is apparently noticeably better than Arizona.

The playoff race still looks pretty exciting to me, though. The races are still tight, and a number of teams are still just a win or two away from getting back into the dance.

All in all? Things really aren’t all that different. Though there’s the chance for a lot of changes in the middle of the race, still – but based on what’s happened in previous systems, and how similar things look already, I’d be willing to be any differences a change in systems by season’s end wouldn’t amount to much changing.

    • piscera.infada

      Yeah, it seems really disingenuous to suddenly be opining the “loser point”. In all honesty, I think the 3-2-1-0 has a lot of merit holistically, I just don’t buy some sort of Flames-centric argument here.

      I don’t see it happening though. The NHL loves keeping teams in the race–and from that perspective, I kind of agree with them. Big “meh” from me.

  • “I mean, you get points for losing. That’s really all you have to say to question it. That doesn’t make sense.”

    No, you don’t. A loss in regulation time is still zero points.

    You’re completely disregarding the whole point of having three 20 minute periods. You’re disregarding the history of the sport.

    Games in regulation end two ways, with a win or a tie.

    It’s a timebox. You can’t add another regulation period on to determine the winner, it’s impractical with how sports broadcasting works.

    The “sudden death” OT system gave each team an opportunity to get another point, in a fashion that respects broadcasting issues. Sudden Death is inherently unfair in the sense where it doesn’t allow the team scored against to use the remaining time in an attempt to tie it again. But it wasn’t controversial because giving the 1 point, as always, to the team that made it through regulation was fair.

    There is no good reason to make 3 periods of regulation hockey meaningless by not rewarding them any points for achieving a tie after regulation.

    If you want to consider losing in OT a “loss”, then make OT another 5-20 minute period where the period is played until completion. Again, that’s impractical because of broadcasting timeboxes, but it would be the only fair solution.

  • Hubcap1

    What about 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for OT or SO win and ZERO for a loss of any kind.

    Call it the 3 – 2 – 0 point system.

    Oh silly me I just realized Ari had 0 points for a loss in OT and SO.

    Despite the lack of major change or maybe because of it this 3-2-1-0 system is far superior as it takes away looser points.

    • Oilerchild77

      Well while we’re at it, why don’t we just have wins and losses, and forget any points at all for any kind of loss? That way, they don’t need to award a 3-2 point system. It’ll be just one point or none.

      Anyway, face it, the only reason why you guys on FN are whining about the point system is because you’re mad that the Oilers are ahead in the standings and they have 7 OT points. For once, can you guys in Cowtown just stop comparing yourselves with the Oilers? Your preoccupation with Edmonton is disturbing.

      • Ole YELLEr

        The Flames have the 4th most wins in the west and are 7th in the standings so no it isn’t just the Oilers being ahead that’s annoying, Anaheim and their 8 points irks me as much personally. Maybe, just maybe we aren’t all preoccupied with comparing ourselves with the oil and you just think our world revolves around your team. Is that disturbing as well?

        • Oilerchild77

          Fair enough, but while you may be earnest in your assessment, the many Flames trolls over at ON have made it quite clear that they think about how the Oilers are doing all day long. It was really those people I was targeting with my comment.

          Also, you and I both know that if the Flames had 7 or 8 OT points and were doing better in the standings, there would be no article on a point system and everyone in Calgary would be content with the way things are.

          • Ole YELLEr

            Sure if the Flames had the points I’d be ok with it and the article probably wouldn’t be written. I personally have never liked the current point system and have advocated the 3 2 1 system. Regardless of if the rule is helping or hurting my team I disagree with it and think it should be changed so all games are worth the same # of points.

  • Oilerchild77

    It would be just as effective to stop awarding teams a point for making it through regulation tied. You should have to make it through OT to get the point and the team that wins in the shootout gets the extra point.

  • EhPierre

    The reason why the NHL doesn’t want to make any changes to the point system, and I think there was an article on this already on sportsnet or tsn, but it’s mainly because NHL records would be shattered if this new system is in place (i.e the most points a team has gotten in a season)

    Another reason is that teams who are near the bottom of the league would start tanking a lot sooner as the race pulls away from them and that takes away the thrill of the tight playoff race thus losing revenue for the respective teams

  • Baalzamon

    IMO it should always be the same number of points awarded for every game. No “games are worth two points except when they’re worth three”. That doesn’t make sense.

    If you want loser points, make it a three point system. If you don’t want a three point system, get rid of loser points and bring draws back (or keep the shootout without the loser point if you really want to, but why would you want to? The shootout is stupid). It has to be one or the other for it to make sense. There is no middle ground.

    • Derzie

      The whole “2 but maybe 3 points per game” thing is dopey and has to go. This and getting ANY points for losing are the key flaws. Participation ribbons are artificial and punish winners. The shootout is a TV thing that avoids ties. Finishes the game on time and gets a winner. For regular season, that’s fine. I strongly feel that 2 pts for a win is the way to go. 3 points per win would cut into the false parity that the NHL covets. OT & SO wins are no different. If you need to nickel and dime points/tie-breaks from them, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Win and you’re in, lose and go home.

    • freethe flames

      Here is something we agree on. If you want OT then you need the 3 point system, if not go back to the old system of ties; I would be happy with either. But having one game award 3 points and most games awarding two points is just stupid. If one is concerned with records form previous generations of hockey then go and change how those points were awarded(make each regulation win worth 3).

  • Parallex

    Seems like change for the sake of change. How about just use wins like the other 3 big NA team sports? Omit SOW for tiebreaking purposes. Otherwise it’s time and energy spent to accomplish not a whole heck of a lot.

  • Derzie

    This system still rewards losing. 2 pts for a win, 0 for a loss. SO is a TV tool to ensure the scheduled time is not overrun. Should not be used but ties would be worse. I suspect that a simple system would not change things drastically from a history perspective but the hockey in future would likely be better overall. Teams would take more chances to get points and the play would improve. And being .500 would be accurate.