April 14, 2010

Some thoughts on overtime in the NHL

The NHL standings are based on a point system. Originally, 2 points were awarded for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss. There had been no regular season overtime since before WW2.

Ties were considerably frowned upon as anticlimactic. Beginning in 1983, the NHL instituted a 5-minute sudden-death overtime period to cut down the number of tied games. The point system remained unchanged, 2 pts for wins, 1 for ties.

Beginning in 1999, however, 1 point was also awarded for teams losing in overtime. This rule saw the end of symmetrical standings. Before then, every game had two points up for grabs. Either the winning team would get both points, or in a tie each team would get one. Now, when a team wins in overtime, there are three points awarded: 2 for the winner and 1 for the loser. So a game can be worth a total of two points if it ends in regulation, but 3 points if it ends in overtime.

This also leads to a disproportionate number of teams finishing nominally over .500. Twenty-three of thirty teams finished with more wins than losses, chiefly because the win column includes both regulation and overtime wins, when the loss column only counts regulation losses.

Ties were eliminated altogether with the introduction of the shootout in 2005. If the overtime expires with no score, a 3-round shootout would decide the outcome, with 2 points going to the winner and 1 to the loser. Still unsymmetrical.

A way to preserve the symmetry would be the format used in the qualifying rounds of the 2010 Olympic ice hockey tournament. Three points for a regulation win, 2 for an overtime or shootout win, and 1 for an OT/shootout loss. Some pundits have proposed instituting this format, but there's no sign that the league is seriously considering the change.

I was curious to see how this season would have played out under the various formats listed above. Would there be a difference in playoff seeding and/or qualification?

Format 1 - Current Format: 2 pts for wins (RW, OW & SW), 1 pt for post-regulation loss (SL & OL)
Format 2 - 1983-1995: 2 pts for wins (RW & OW), 1 pt for post-overtime tie (SW & SL)
Format 3 - Pre-1983: 2 pts for win (RW), 1 pt for post-regulation tie (OW, SW, SL & OL)
Format 4 - 2010 Olympics: 3 pts for RW, 2 pts for OW & SW, 1 pt for SL & OL

RW = Regulation Win, OW = Overtime Win, SW = Shootout Win, SL = Shootout Loss, OL = Overtime Loss, RL = Regulation Loss

New Jersey402652271032E952E952E1432E
NY Rangers34134733879E777E836E1217E
Tampa Bay255475368012E7112E7112E10512E
NY Islanders206864377813E6614E6415E9814E

San Jose431765201131W1011W1051W1561W
Los Angeles3241081271016W907W876W1337W
St Louis

There are some interesting things to note in this breakdown. The Rangers make the playoffs (and Montreal misses) in every alternate scenario. Atlanta replaces Boston as the 6th seed in the pre-'83 setup, and in the other two alternates, the Bruins face the Caps in the first round. Over in the West, apart from a few neighbors trading places, there are few changes except Calgary qualifying in place of Colorado in the '83-'04 setup.

So is one setup better than another? I am drawn to setups where there's symmetry, and as long as there's gonna be a differentiation between overtime and regulation losses, there ought to be differentiation between overtime and regulation wins. Hence I like the Olympic format, though I don't think they'll be changing any time soon.

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