Eat What You Kill

by Demetri Fragopoulos on December 4, 2016

A proposal to create incentives for teams to score more goals.


There have been countless articles written about the NHL’s scoring system like the one penned by Pierre LeBrun that focus on the ‘Loser point’ and the argument to get rid of it. There have also been many other columns written about the lack of scoring, like Ken Campbell’s, which provide us with goal scoring stats so low that only mortgage rates are lower.

What is being talked about will not solve the problem.

Seriously, if players are not allowed block shots, Campbell alludes to as one radical idea, then players should not be allowed to screen goalies and then we might as well attach a long metal rod on to each of them and simulate playing table hockey.

Angling the posts so puck bounce inward is also an idea that will not truly solve the issue of low goal scoring. Changing the NHL’s scoring system will force teams and their coaching staffs to develop goal scoring talent and systems as opposed to defensive oriented play and schemes.

LeBrun’s take is similar to most others, get rid of the inflationary ‘Loser point’ and make all games worth three total points and the reason to make the change is because parity between teams has been successfully reached.

His proposal is, every game has three points up for grabs. 3-2-1-0:

  • Win in regulation you get three points
  • Teams will earn two points if they win in overtime or the shootout
  • Teams that lose in extra time or the shootout will get one point, and
  • Those that lose in regulation will earn nothing

People have suggested getting rid of the loser point before. Some want to go back to just a two-point game and others want to bring back ties.

LeBrun quotes Nashville Predators GM David Poile as saying “I understand your point, but I think this falls into the category of: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The system works.”

Really?

The Los Angeles Times has an article regarding the rule changes for the 1999-2000 season. This is the season that the ‘loser point’ was born in.

Then coach for the Anaheim Ducks, Craig Hartsburgh, told the Times “When you're playing within your own conference and your own division, you're going to probably still have the approach, 'Let's be cautious, let's be smart. We don't want to give up a point and we'll take another if they make a mistake.' When you play the other [conference], it may be different. I won't say it will open up, but you do less damage if you lose.”

His then goalie, Guy Hebert, added “A point is really important for teams, especially on the road, and you can tell your goalie, 'Hey, we're going to be taking chances. Just do your best. If you lose, you're not going to lose everything. I think it will increase the excitement in that five minutes. It will be nerve-racking for goaltenders, though, because one mental lapse, and you skate off a loser.”

If that change did make the game more exciting and create more scoring then why did the league recently switch the overtime rules to allow for three-on-three play?

If that change did work as well as it was supposed to, then why did the league adopt the shootout for the 2005-06 season?

The league wanted to reduce the number of games that resulted in a tie. Stats before the 1999-00 change:

Season

Ties

Total Games

Percentage Tied

1994-95

214

1092

19.6

1995-96

101

624

16.2

1996-97

201

1066

18.9

1997-98

219

1066

20.5

1998-99

221

1107

20.0

 

Results starting with the 1999-00 season:

Season

Ties

Overtime (OT)

Total Games

Percentage Tied

Percentage OT

1999-00

146

260

1148

12.7

22.6

2000-01

145

274

1230

11.8

22.3

2001-02

138

270

1230

11.2

22.0

2002-03

141

313

1230

11.5

25.4

2003-04

165

315

1230

13.4

25.6

 

The number of games that resulted in a tie went dramatically down, but the number of games that went to overtime was significantly more that the number of games that were previously tied after regulation. Meaning, teams figured out systems that allowed them to earn the extra point. Boring!

So, the NHL brought in the shootout to do away with ties forever:

Season

OT+SO

Total Games

Percentage

2005-06

281

1230

22.8

2006-07

281

1230

22.8

2007-08

272

1230

22.1

2008-09

282

1230

22.9

2009-10

301

1230

24.5

2010-11

297

1230

24.1

2011-12

300

1230

24.4

2012-13

162

720

22.5

2013-14

307

1230

25.0

2014-15

306

1230

24.9

 

Weaker teams continued to push games to extra time and in particular the shootout because they had a better chance of winning a game in the shootout than in normal play. Approximately 57% of games that needed extra time were finalized by the shootout during this period.

The league did not like that so they tweaked the rules for 3-on-3 play in OT:

Season

OT+SO

Total Games

Percentage

2015-16

275

1230

22.4

2016-17

85

358

23.7

 

While that change did have the desired effect, approximately 39% of extra time games were ended by the shootout, there are still more games requiring extra time than there were games that ended in a tie (pre-1999-00). Teams still milk the system for the inflationary extra point.

What is even worse for poolies such as yourselves is that when a game is decided by a shootout, your players earn no fantasy points, unless you have a category for shootout goals but few leagues do.

We know of people that switch to other programming because they understand that whatever happens in a shootout does not change anything with regards to their fantasy rosters. Determining the winner of the contest is supposed to keep you glued to your screens.

It is possible that LeBrun’s proposed idea could change the current culture but what prevents it from being adopted is closed minded thinking from some hockey people like Brian Burke.

As mentioned in LeBrun’s article, Burke indicates “I researched this quite a bit. I read a very detailed study about English soccer, which I forwarded to the league. The basic conclusion of this study is that it had no impact on results, that players were properly incentivized to win the game regardless” and “You will have teams mathematically eliminated from the playoffs by Christmas. I have zero interest in that. None. I'd rather put a sharp stick in my eye.”

The counter point to the English soccer study is that they play 38 games to determine the Championship and relegated teams. Not 82 games for one of 16 playoff spots with no relegation to a lower league. Therefore, it is understandable why English soccer players are properly motivated. Burke should have been able to see this. Maybe he should stop playing with sharp sticks as it is affecting his vision.

On the whole the 3-2-1-0 proposal is skewered from the fear that teams (their own team) would be eliminated early in the season, like Burke talks about.

What is needed is a system that promotes scoring without gimmickry on the ice which also allows teams to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.

I propose to you that not all games be worth a fixed set of points.

When you go fishing, not every fish that is caught weighs exactly the same. When you have been fighting to reel one in but the line snaps before you can get the fish onto the boat, well you did not earn a partial fish. You caught nothing so you go hungry until you are victorious.

Points should instead be awarded to the victorious team based on the regulation time goal differential.

  • Win in regulation, the team earn whatever the goal differential is plus an additional victory point
  • Win in overtime, the victorious team only earns the single victory point
  • Win in the shootout, the victorious team earns no points but does have a win on the books
  • Losing teams earn nothing at all times

Teams that are tied in points, will have a tie breaker based on the number of wins they earned.

Here is an illustration of what that victory system would look like under the current season:

Metropolitan

GP

Victory System Points

NHL Points

NY Rangers

25

60

33

Columbus

22

45

30

Pittsburgh

24

40

31

Washington

22

37

28

Philadelphia

25

23

27

NY Islanders

23

23

22

Carolina

23

21

23

New Jersey

23

18

26

 

New Jersey looks to be one of those teams that currently earns many of their points through extra time.

For those like Burke, who worry teams cannot recover I give you the Columbus Blue Jackets 10-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on November 4th, 2016. That was an 11-point gain in a single night.

(To save my editor some work with tables I will just list the other teams and their victory system points)

Atlantic

  • Montreal   49
  • Tampa Bay   46
  • Boston   36
  • Toronto   34
  • Ottawa   27
  • Florida   24
  • Detroit   24
  • Buffalo   23

Central

  • Nashville   44
  • Minnesota   38
  • Chicago   34
  • St. Louis   34
  • Winnipeg   31
  • Dallas   22
  • Colorado   20

Pacific

  • Edmonton   43
  • Anaheim   41
  • San Jose   40
  • Los Angeles   32
  • Calgary   25
  • Vancouver   15
  • Arizona   11

What this system asks for is that if you are leading you want to keep on increasing your lead. You cannot afford to coast offensively or defensively. An 8-7 game is worth the same as a 2-1 game.

If you are down, you continue to want to catch up and not let in any more goals go into your net because it will be harder to catch that team in the standings.

With the victory scoring system the NHL will be promoting exactly what fans want to see, sixty minutes of a high intensity struggle between teams. Not five minutes of 3-on-3 play.

For a league that defines itself on being fast and skilled they have a scoring system that influences coaches to act the exact opposite. They fear that they will lose their jobs unless they win, so play it safe, get the one point for going into extra time and then pray you can eke out a victory in the next five minutes or during the shootout.

General Managers, Presidents and other higher-up figures fear that their team will look bad or silly if they are embarrassed by much more skilled teams. Their fans would not come to watch or support them so keep with the system that ain’t broke. At least the team looks like it is in the thick of things until it is not in early March.

But, the system is broke. Scoring is not improving or being developed.

It is time for the emphasis to come back to the skilled. Time for the strong to be able to eat what they kill.