Evaluating Overtime (Part One)

The NHL's current rules regarding overtime and shootouts were implemented to improve the game of hockey. However, the rules have presented some issues of their own. This is part one of a two-part look at some steps the NHL could take in order to make overtime/shootouts less controversial.

The NHL’s current overtime system was put into place in 2005-06 when the shootout was added onto the five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime period that was originally debuted in 1999-2000. In the current system, teams receive a point for getting to overtime, then earn an additional point if they score in overtime or win the shootout.  

But the system didn’t always operate the way it does now. When the league first implemented overtime in 1983-84, it consisted of a single 5-on-5, five-minute, sudden death period. The winner was allotted two points for a win and the loser would receive no points. In the case of a tie, both teams would be awarded a single point.

The previous system was constructed around the concept that a game was worth two points no matter the outcome. Now, a game is worth two points in regulation, then three points once it gets to overtime. A team could potentially lose two consecutive games in overtime but still tie a team in the standings that won and lost games in regulation. The current system doesn’t do enough to compensate teams that actually win games.

The NHL should strongly consider reconstructing the system by removing the statute that awards a point just for getting to overtime. Overtime was created with the sole purpose of determining who won the game, not as a way to reward teams who come close to winning games.

Examples of how teams benefitted from overtime losses can be seen in both conferences from last season’s standings. This example will be using the Eastern Conference:























Buffalo lost nine games in overtime last season, the most of any team in the conference. New York only lost two games in overtime the fewest of any team in the conference. The way the point system is structured now, the Sabres benefitted from getting to overtime and losing. When overtime losses are removed from the point total, New York jumps Buffalo for the seventh seed. New York would have finished with 91 points compared to Buffalo’s 87 points.                             

By rewarding teams who don’t win games, the league is doing a disservice to their teams and fans alike. The concept of giving a team a point at the end of regulation is unnecessary. Prior to 1999, teams did not receive points until the games concluded, whether by win or tie. Many people hated the tie and felt that no one really won. In the modern era, the league has taken steps to make sure that every game has a winner and loser. But instead of defining the distinction the league ended up just blurring it further by going to the opposite end of the spectrum; this time no one really loses. When a team can still gain ground on an opponent by losing a game, that’s when you can tell that something is wrong with the system.  

Check back tomorrow for part two where an evaluation of the shootout will occur and a solution to the points problem will be provided.

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George Prax's picture

And the Shameless Plug of the year award goes to.... Tongue

Matthew Brigidi's picture

great minds Smile

George Prax's picture

While I agree that the Overtime format needs some tweaking, the thing is that it's not all decipherable through stats. Trust me I know where you're coming from, I'm an accountant. But the problem is, there are intangibles to consider when discussing the effect of the third point. Some teams play to be guaranteed that point, i.e., take it easy in overtime just to get to the shootout where it's frankly a 50-50 shot to win. So while a team may seem to have a lot of OT losses, a lot of the time it might be useful to look at their total OT games and how they compare to other teams when you factor in wins in OT/Shootout PLUS losses in both.

Buffalo had 10 OT losses, but they also had 15 wins. In fact, only two teams had less than 15 games that went to OT. Maybe this helps your point, but one of them was the Stanley Cup champs, and they also had the least amount of OT/Shootout wins (3-11 record). To me, that shows that if a team thinks they can't win in OT, they'll play to win in regulation. If a team thinks they have a better chance, like the Sabres, they'll play for OT, seeing as they're guaranteed a point. The problem here is putting the Bruins and Sabres on an even playing field when it comes to that extra point, and change their mentality on how they play in the first 60 minutes, instead of sitting back and hoping for the extra point.

There's a lot of interesting analysis in these stats actually lol. Good job.

Matthew Brigidi's picture

Completely agree Prax. This piece was difficult because of the dynamics you're talking about. I had originally planned to make this a comprehensive look at the whole system, unfortunately it got to be far too long for a single post. Hopefully my post tomorrow will tie this all together to properly explain what I believe needs to be done as well as address the great points that you're bringing up.

Patrick Storto's picture

The wrench in this is the shootout.

How do you give a team that loses a shootout no points? How do you punish a team that loses a skills competition and not a hockey game?

If you award no points to the loser of a shootout it would devalue the purpose of playing a hockey game at all.

Matthew Brigidi's picture