Standing For Something
by Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Definition of an old-timer when it comes to hockey: someone who remembers when a 60-minute tie was a perfectly legitimate outcome.
For decades, the way to determine the standings in the National Hockey League was simple. A team earned two points for a win, one point for a tie, and no points for a loss. Overtime had been dropped in 1942 because of wartime restrictions, and the NHL never got around to restoring it for more than 40 years. But it worked reasonably well.
The NHL added a five-minute sudden-death overtime period in 1983. That was universally accepted as a good move. What’s better than a walk-off goal, pardon the expression, to provide for a dramatic finish to a game? That format lasted for 16 years.
Tying one on
Here’s where it gets a little silly. The NHL had discovered through marketing than new fans hated ties. And it liked new fans. Therefore, it started to come up with rules in which a winner was declared more often. In 1999, the league went to four-on-four hockey (counting skaters only) to open up the ice and create more scoring opportunities.
Then in 2005, the NHL dropped ties entirely. If a game was deadlocked after 65 minutes, the winner was determined by a shootout – hockey’s equivalent of a home run-hitting contest. A team that won the game in any form earned two points, an overtime or shootout loss earned one point, and a regulation loss earned zero points.
Finally in 2015, overtimes went to three-on-three skaters, thus opening the ice even more. It wasn’t like regulation hockey, but it wasn’t boring.
There are a couple of problems with the way things are now. Teams have an incentive in a tie game in the third period to be as conservative as possible until the end of regulation in order to earn a point. You might as well be guaranteed something on the night, right? So no one takes chances. Then there’s the issue that three-on-three hockey and shootouts have nothing to do with the way the game is normally played. Do NBA teams play four-on-four in overtime? Do NFL teams play seven-on-seven? No and no.
One possible fix
We can’t fix all of that easily, but we can fix a little of it. We can always award three points, split in various combinations, after each game. Winners in regulation should pick up three points, winners in overtime or a shootout get two, losers in extra time earn one, and 60-minute losers go home empty.
This wouldn’t do too much to the standings, but it might be fairer. Examples – Minnesota would have had the best record in the West last season, passing Chicago. Detroit, with its 16 OT wins, would have fallen behind Buffalo.
The change in points would make every minute of games more meaningful. That sounds like a worthwhile solution to me.
For more from Budd Bailey, visit his authors section at Buffalo Sports Page.