NHL, Please Fix Your Standings – Math with Bad Drawings

Dear National Hockey League,

I have been a hockey fan since childhood. The NHL playoffs are my favorite thing on TV, especially now that The Good Place is over. So please know that I say this with a heart full of love.

Your regular season standings are an abomination.

In the 1990s, when I became a fan, the rules were simple. A win was worth 2 points; a tie, 1; and a loss, 0. So it had always been, since the days of the dinosaurs and Gordie Howe (not himself a dinosaur, though I believe played for the Saskatoon Dinosaurs in the WHA).

Alas, this gave teams an incentive to play for the tie. I have no qualm with that, but ties apparently leave too many fans unsatisfied.

So in 1999, you introduced a new rule: the loser point. Now, simply making it to overtime—even if you went on to lose—guaranteed you 1 point. Since a tie now offered no extra benefit, this encouraged teams to play aggressively for the win.

A little clunky. But it worked.

That is, until you kept tinkering. Still dissatisfied with ties, in 2006 you eliminated them altogether. Any game that was tied after overtime would finish in a winner-take-all shootout.

Yet – and here is where the madness begins – you kept the loser point.

Do you see the error?

You healed the broken arm, and kept on the sling. You replaced the broken lamp, then transferred the duct tape onto the new one. You brought out chips and dip to tide us over until dinner, and now the pizza is here, and you’re still forcing tortillas into our overstuffed mouths.

In today’s league, every game ends with a winner and a loser. Yet the unwieldy standings list four types of outcomes: wins (2 points), losses (0), overtime losses (1), and shootout losses (1).

Can anyone ponder this monstrous inelegance without grinding their teeth into a chalky paste?

There’s a simple and obvious solution: eliminate the loser point. That said, Micah Blake McCurdy, to whom I tend to defer on such matters, argues that this would add too much randomness to the standings (since a shootout is little better than a coin flip). He favors treating any game that goes to overtime like a tie: each team gets 1 point, win or lose.

Either way is fine by me.

Please, NHL. You’re better than this.