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Sunday, February 24, 2021

making a point
The rampant parity on display this National Hockey League season is prompting more and more complaints about the so-called “loser point”, aka the conditional third point that each team is guaranteed when regulation time ends with the score tied. The perception is that this point-padding is responsible for an unnatural tightness in the NHL standings, even though some theoretical number-crunching shows that that isn’t the case.

That third point does serve a purpose: It discourages teams from playing clock-killing prevent defenses during the overtime period. That’s pretty much was what was happening before the three-point structure was instituted. Teams preferred to withdraw into a defensive shell, ride out the five minutes, and come away with the one-point tie. That led to some of the most purposeless hockey you’d ever see. The guaranteed point, on the other hand, makes it less risky for teams to open up offensively and go for the two-point win, because there’s nothing to lose and only something to gain.

That’s how OT works in hockey. Offensive chances simply don’t manifest themselves enough to do it any other way, unless you want to go back to ties.

On the other hand, the shootout is a different story. There’s no possibility of defensive sandbagging — it’s a simple offensive contest. No matter how many rounds it goes, it still comes down to a shooter getting one past the goalie. No nuances.

That’s why I think the “loser point” should be eliminated once an NHL game goes into shootout. In my mind, it loses its purpose once overtime ends: It no longer serves as incentive to ensure fast-paced gameplay, and it certainly doesn’t have an impact on how teams approach the shootout. If anything, it creates added urgency for the shootout, which would make it even more popular than it already is.

So it would go like this: Regulation win would result in two points for the winner and zero points for the loser. Overtime win would result in two points for the winner and one point for the loser. Shootout win would result in two points for the winner and zero points for the loser.

I can’t see a downside to this structure. I suppose that if a team has a particularly strong shootout record, it may try to run out the OT with puck possession. But that would just give the opposing team that much more incentive to settle it in overtime. And regardless, if that strategy results in a shootout resolution, all the better.

Even this solution won’t satiate everyone, particularly purists. But it seems like the fairest way to minimize what’s perceived as point-padding.

FURTHER THOUGHTS: Well, I thought of a downside. If a team is determined to come away with one point, all it has to do is pull its goalie at some point in the OT, letting the other team win. That avoids the risk of going into the shootout, where the risk is greater because a team could end up with nothing.

So I guess the only true way to get rid of the “loser point” is to eliminate the overtime period altogether, and go straight to a winner-take-all shootout after a tied regulation. I doubt the NHL is ready for that complete break with tradition just yet, though.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/24/2008 05:43:48 PM
Category: Hockey
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