I was looking at the 3 point game, and evaluating how I could write about it to make it more appealing. It seemed a little too simplistic to compare the point system that I like with the one that I don’t like and the ones that the league has long since rejected, so I wondered if I could imagine a new one. And then I could outline the criteria that we use consciously and subconsciously to evaluate if it was a good system or not.

First, the point systems being debated:

Win-Loss system (WLS) – Most team sports only have wins and losses. So each team has only two columns, one with wins, one with losses, and if your lucky, a winning percentage.

2 point system (2PS) – For a long time, the NHL was the only place where having games end in ties on a regular basis was acceptable. So, someone determined that tie was half as good as a win, and the easy way to do that was 1 point for a tie and 2 points for a win.

The loser point (LP) – Since the 2004-05 season was needlessly cancelled by the NHL lockout, we have had a system that awards 2 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an overtime or shootout win, 1 point for an overtime or shootout loss, and 0 points for a regulation loss.

3 point system (3PS) – In this system already in use in a variety of other places, a regulation win gives 3 points, a win in overtime or the shootout gets 2 points, a loss in overtime or the shootout gives 1 point, and 0 points again for a regulation loss.

4 point game (4PS) – This is a slight modification of the 3 point system, where overtime and shootout wins are still worth 2 points and overtime and shootout losses are still worth 1 point. The regulation results are divided, so a regulation win by 1 or 2 goals is still worth 3 points and a regulation loss is still with 0 points, but if a game is decided by 3 goals or more, the winner gets 4 points and the loser actually loses a point.

Next, we have to establish some sort of criteria to measure them. To do this, I collected my thoughts about the current system, my nostalgia about old systems, and what I think I might think about any new system that could one day be introduced.

1. It’s easy to calculate – The average fan doesn’t want to do math, but they still want to know how many points their team currently has, how far they are behind another team, and what does .500 look like. The above average fan will be able to look at the standings and calculate how many points a team needs to clinch a playoff spot, but that’s it. The columns there are, the more complicated the calculations are. Using this criteria, the current system is probably already more complicated than some people like and the 3 and 4 point systems would be even worse.

2. .500 makes sense – Half is a good benchmark, winning half of your game, earning half of the points you could have earned etc. You might think this would mean you were better than half of the teams, which in the NHL means that you have a pretty good shot at a playoff spot. But what does .500 look like according to these various systems. For most of them it’s pretty simple. In an 82 game NHL season, .500 is easily calculated as 41 wins (WLS), 82 points (2PS), 123 points (3PS, 4PS). But with the current loser point it’s not so easy. In the 2013-14 NHL season, the Carolina Hurricanes finished with 83 points. Using the method that most fans and sports journalists use, they finished 1 point above .500, but they were still 10 points back of the last playoff spot and could only claim to be better than 5 of the NHL’s 30 teams. Getting half of the points available to any team would still be 82. The league average point total was 92, which means winning half of your games and collecting the league average number of overtime losses. As a point of reference, this is the Winning Percentage Distribution graph.

If it looks off center to you, it should. The middle column is #11, but the center, or the expected mean has shifted to the right, away from the middle.

3. It doesn’t change how people play – As fans, we want the teams and athletes that we cheer for to play for the win. Anything less than that is unacceptable. If there are other things to play for, that introduces other options. Obviously the WLS would be the best for this, and the 4PS gives the most other options, but the LP very obviously makes teams play for the safe overtime point, often killing the excitement in the building for up to the last ten minutes of the third period.

4. It’s nuanced – I recognise that this will be a matter of preference. Some prefer the lack of nuance that the WLS provides, but I don’t think that a team that squeaks by in a shootout should get the same number of points as a team that dominates all game long. Maybe a team that wins 7-1 should get more points than a team that wins with an empty net goal too. This nuance creates a greater spread, and in analytics terms does a better job of showing how good a team actually is. Contrast the winning percentage distribution chart above with the results from the exact same season using the 4 point system.

Notice the nuance? Notice the semblance of a curve? Notice how bad Buffalo was?

5. Does it increase competition – It probably seems odd to suggest that counting the points differently could make the league more competitive. One of the ways that we measure competition is in the last few weeks when we’re waiting for the last few playoff spots to be clinched. If there are a lot of teams in the running, we believe that we are following a competitive league. Those last few weeks are interesting, because even if our team misses the playoffs we can still hold out hope until they are mathematically eliminated. Can you imagine the hope the 4PS would give people in the last few weeks? “Okay, if we win the last four games by three goals or more, and the team we’re chasing loses them all by three goals or more, we can still clinch that last spot.” The LP does this too. If you look at the top distribution chart for the LP system, you can count the 16 playoff teams going from right to left. The #12 column has 8 teams and they are fighting for 3 playoff spots. The LP essentially allows bad teams to not be as bad, and it doesn’t allow good teams to get any better, and so it artificially makes the league more competitive.

I could have devised a scoring system to analyze my point systems, but I think it’s clear by now that they are all flawed in some way, the 4PS stands up just as well, if not better than the LP.