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"Regular guy, likes hockey"
Grand Rapids, MI • United States • 29 Years Old • Male
I had about two and a half hours to kill over the Christmas break, so I thought I'd spend the time doing a little research on something that had been interesting me.

In the past few seasons, we've seen an unusually large number of teams very close in the standings; this year has been no different, with really only two teams (Detroit, Ottawa) distancing themselves from the field, and only one (Los Angeles) falling way behind. It certainly looks like the NHL now boasts a substantial amount of parity.

The question I had is, what is the primary reason for this recent trend of standings bunching. I figured three possibilities -- one, that the salary cap has brought about real parity; two, that the "extra point" for losing in overtime keeps teams of widely different playing abilities closer in the standings and creates artificial parity; three, that the answer was a relatively even mix of the two previous options.

For reference, let's look at NHL standings as of the Christmas break:

1: Ottawa: 50
2: New Jersey: 43
3: Carolina: 41
4: Boston: 40
5: Montreal: 40
6: Buffalo: 39
7: Pittsburgh: 38
8: NY Rangers: 38
9: Atlanta: 37
10: Florida: 37
11: Toronto: 37
12: NY Islanders: 36
13: Philadelphia: 36
14: Tampa Bay: 33
15: Washington: 30

1: Detroit: 55
2: Dallas: 46
3: Colorado: 44
4: Vancouver: 44
5: Minnesota: 42
6: San Jose: 41
7: Calgary: 41
8: Anaheim: 41
9: St. Louis: 39
10: Chicago: 38
11: Columbus: 36
12: Phoenix: 35
13: Edmonton: 35
14: Nashville: 34
15: Los Angeles: 26

Now, I figured what the standings would look like if the NHL used the immediate, pre-lockout scoring system. Under this system, losses during the overtime period still counted as one point (the dreaded Regulation Tie), but all games that now go to a shootout instead were left as ties (1 point to each team). So, I reconfigured the current standings to reflect this scoring system by subtracting a point for every shootout win. (Reason this works: regulation/overtime period wins (2) stay wins (2), shootout wins (2) become ties (1), overtime loses (1) become regulation ties (1), shootout losses (1) become ties (1).)

1:Ottawa: 49
2: New Jersey: 41
3: Carolina: 40
4: Boston: 39
5: Montreal: 38
6: Buffalo: 38
7: Toronto: 37
8: Philadelphia: 36
9: NY Islanders: 35
10: NY Rangers: 35
11: Florida: 34
12: Atlanta: 33
13: Pittsburgh: 33
14: Tampa Bay: 31
15: Washington: 30

1: Detroit: 51
2: Vancouver: 43
3: Dallas: 43
4: Minnesota: 42
5: Colorado: 42
6: Calgary: 40
7: San Jose: 39
8: St. Louis: 38
9: Chicago: 37
10: Anaheim: 37
11: Columbus: 35
12: Phoenix: 33
13: Nashville: 32
14: Edmonton: 25
15: Los Angeles: 24

Next, I reconfigured the standings again to eliminate the "extra point" entirely, by using the scoring system the NHL used before introducing the "regulation tie." In this system, there are ties, no shootouts, and losers in overtime receive no points. So, shootout wins (2) and loses (1) become ties (1), and overtime losses (1) become losses (0).

1: Ottawa: 48
2: New Jersey: 40
3: Carolina: 39
4: Boston: 37
5: Montreal: 37
6: Buffalo: 37
7: Philadelphia: 35
8: NY Islanders: 34
9: Toronto: 33
10: NY Rangers: 33
11: Atlanta: 33
12: Florida: 32
13: Pittsburgh: 32
14: Tampa Bay: 28
15: Washington: 28

1: Detroit: 51
2: Vancouver: 43
3: Dallas: 40
4: Minnesota: 42
5: Colorado: 40
6: San Jose: 39
7: St. Louis: 36
8: Chicago: 36
9: Anaheim: 36
10: Calgary: 35
11: Columbus: 34
12: Phoenix: 33
13: Nashville: 32
14: Los Angeles: 24
15: Edmonton: 24 (6-19-12!)

Analysis: Eliminating the "extra points" from the system, surprisingly, did little to change the bunching of the standings. While some teams (St. Louis, Philadelphia) made major gains and others (Edmonton, Pittsburgh) fell sharply, the overall closeness of the playoff chase remained largely the same. In both the "real" and "extra points eliminated" version of the standings, the 13th-place team in the East is a mere 2 points out of the playoffs. The Western race became closer: eliminating the "extra points" puts the 13th-place team (under the system, Nashville) only 4 points out of a playoff spot, whereas the "real" 13th-place team (Edmonton) is 6 points out of the playoffs. In the East, currently, there is a 5-point gap between 2nd and 8th; if we eliminate the "extra point" from the standings the gap is only at 6. The same gap in the Western Conference expands from 5 to 7.

I admit, there are some possible holes in my analysis. For example, one could argue that, due to their success in shootouts, teams like Edmonton and Pittsburgh might be playing to get to the shootout rather than make a concerted effort to try to end the game in the overtime period; thus, by removing the shootouts and extra points they would approach overtime differently. I won't argue against this reasoning -- certainly, the shootout and the "extra point" have considerably changed the way that teams approach overtime, psychologically.

Still, I think I have enough evidence to say that, for the most part, the bunching in the standings has more to do with parity and less to do with the charity point for losing in overtime.

But there are still issues; let's take the example of Edmonton, because it is so extreme. Under the current standings, Edmonton sits 13th in the conference, only 6 points outside the playoffs. Removing the shootout and extra point for overtime losses drops them to dead last in the NHL, 12 points out of the last playoff spot in the West.

Now, I have not change Edmonton's game results at all, except to rebrand all games that went to the shootout as ties. All their wins in regulation or the overtime period are still counted as such; all their losses in the overtime period remain losses in the the overtime period. And yet, under one scoring system Edmonton is considered a 35-point team, slightly better than Nashville and waaay better (9 points!) than Los Angeles. Under another, Edmonton is ranked slightly worse than Los Angeles and waaay worse (8 points!) than Nashville.

Same team, same regulation/overtime period game results. But under two different scoring systems, two very different placements relative the Western Conference pack.

So, the question I raise is this: which figures, 35 points or 24 points, 13th or dead last, are a better reflection of the team's true ability? And how about the Penguins -- are they closer to 7th or 13th-best team in the East this season? If the true test of hockey heart and skill is the playoffs, where there are no shootouts and no "half-wins" for games lost in overtime, is it really fair that a team can stay in the playoff hunt because of its ability to win a shootout or its ability to lose in overtime instead of regulation?

And we still haven't even raised the question of whether it is logical to consider games that end in regulation worth only 2 points and those that do not worth 3.

Conclusions:

1) The bunching in the standings is primarily due to salary cap-era parity, rather than extra points for losses in extra time.

2) The shootout and overtime loss scoring system still skews the standings considerably, unfairly punishing or rewarding teams based on tendencies which, ultimately, are meaningless come playoff time.
Filed Under:   standings   shootout  
December 26, 2007 12:59 PM ET | Delete
great stuff. while i agree strategy that may be used to get the extra point may be useless once the playoffs begin, you have to get there 1st. i love this kind of number crunching and have wondered about it myself. great job
December 26, 2007 8:07 PM ET | Delete
Good work!
December 26, 2007 9:09 PM ET | Delete
To me, eliminating the extra point means only one thing: ot losses/shootout losses become nothing (0 points), an ot win/shootout win still is a win (2 points). All you have to do is carry the OTL and SOL into the L category.. wins remain the same.. and points really dont mean anything anymore because wins determine your position (althought i would leave them as they are for historical purposes). Tied teams are now seperated on the basis of games played.Not to rain on your double reconfiguration idea or anything, i know what you meant, just i think this is more acceptable since we know the shootout is probably here to stay at this point. That makes the standing appear is this fashion: GP W L Pts1. Ottawa* 35 23 12 462. New Jersey* 36 20 16 40 3. Carolina* 37 19 18 384. Buffalo 34 19 15 385. Pittsburgh 36 18 18 366. Boston 36 18 18 367. Atlanta 36 18 18 368. NY Islanders 34 17 17 34-------------------------------------9. Montreal 36 17 19 3410. NY Rangers 36 17 19 3411. Florida 36 17 19 3412. Philadelphia 34 16 18 3213. Tampa Bay 36 15 21 3014. Toronto 36 15 21 3015. Washington 36 13 23 26 GP W L Pts1. Detroit* 36 26 10 522. Colorado* 36 21 15 423. Dallas* 37 21 16 424. Minnesota 35 20 15 405. Vancouver 37 20 17 406. St. Louis 33 18 15 367. Chicago 35 18 17 368. San Jose 35 18 17 36--------------------------------------9. Anaheim 38 18 20 3610. Pheonix 34 17 17 3411. Calgary 37 17 20 3412. Nashville 34 16 18 3213. Edmonton 37 16 21 3214. Columbus 35 15 20 3015. Los Angeles 37 12 25 24
December 26, 2007 9:32 PM ET | Delete
Sorry for the ugly formatting of that last post.. here is a link to the standings in my blog.. http://my.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=3690
December 26, 2007 9:34 PM ET | Delete
http://my.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=3690
December 26, 2007 11:51 PM ET | Delete
I don't know whether or not I like straight-up wins and losses; I'm somewhat partial to the old system of win, lose, or tie, but I could be talked into the win-or-lose, no-extra point formula, I think.I still think the win/lose/tie system is really the best, because I hate that shootouts decide games and I hate that some games are worth 3 points, but if the shootout is really here to stay, then I think it might indeed be most acceptable to do it your way, c16_badger. At the very least, it would eliminate one half of the ridiculousness and keep all games worth the same.But, the point of the piece was not to say which is the fairest or best way to calculate the standings, but to see whether or not the current system is keeping more teams in the playoff hunt than systems that were used in the past. But there are certainly other ways of doing it that haven't been tried before that might be worth a look, including the system you described. I've even heard of a 3-2-1-0 system (3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an overtime win, 1 for an overtime loss). Which, I admit, is itself a little ridiculous, though it does make all games worth the same amount of points.
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