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Three-point debate: Change the standings?

Guest Irishjim

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By Pierre LeBrun
I would never suggest for a moment that Steve Yzerman and I share a brain -- I wouldn’t want to insult him that way -- but we certainly agree on one thing. We both see merit in awarding three points for a 60-minute, regulation-time victory.

"I just think a regulation win should be most important," the Tampa Bay Lightning GM and Hockey Hall of Fame player told ESPN.com Friday.

For those who have labored through my hockey blogs at ESPN.com since September 2008, you know this issue is near and dear to my heart.

I’ve been a proponent of a 3-2-1 points system for years, as in three points for a 60-minute win, two points for an overtime/shootout victory, and one point for an OT/SO loss.

As it turns out, Yzerman also feels that way.

"We switched to 4-on-4 overtime years ago which is entertaining, I have no problem with that," said Yzerman. "The shootout is a role of the dice, it doesn’t prove who the better team is. I just think, let’s reward teams that win in 60 minutes."

But, and you knew it was coming ...

"But I don’t think it has much support around the league," said Yzerman.

And that is indeed the case. From the league head office to most of Yzerman's colleagues, the idea hasn’t gained much traction.

A quick history lesson on the matter:

  • In February 2004 at the GM meetings in Henderson, Nev., the idea of three points for a 60-minute win was included amongst as list of staggering recommendations from GMs, along with the shootout, removal of the center red line for offsides and having a massive crackdown on obstruction, etc. In other words, this was the meeting that would eventually lead to the post-lockout changes that revolutionized the game. Except somehow between that meeting and the return of hockey for the 2005-06 season, the three-point idea was dropped.
  • In February 2007 at the GM meetings in Naples, Fla., the three-point idea took one last dance on the agenda. And got crushed.
    "Because it's a terrible idea," then-Anaheim GM Brian Burke said on Feb. 21, 2007 after the meetings wrapped up. "That's why it didn't have any support. ... They tried this in British soccer and everything I've heard is that it didn't make a difference. Teams would get ahead and then would shut it down.
    "I think our system is pretty darn good," he added. "I think our game is good, I think our points system is good, our fans are just finally learning to understand it. And now we're going to change it? It's just dumb for me, it's just dumb."

So, it’s been five years since the idea was shot down and it doesn’t appear to have enough traction to return as an item worth debating.

"I used to support it, I used to think three points for a 60-minute win was a great idea, but then after watching the standings the last few years, why would you want to eliminate those races?," veteran Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com Friday.

"Why would you want someone 15 points ahead of the next team?"

Well, my answer to that question is this: yes, today’s standings are incredibly close and exciting to the finish. But are they truly reflective of the actual balance of power in the NHL? Should not the league standings have as much integrity and realism as possible and reward the better teams? Wouldn’t the cream better rise to the top with three-points for 60-minute wins?

But Holland, whose team -- a powerhouse as always -- would actually the benefit most from three-point wins, pointed to the bigger picture.

"The media used to complain that the regular season didn’t mean anything. Well, now, it means everything," said Holland. "Every game matters the standings are so close. Let’s keep the standings compact. Let’s keep the races. These races in incredible. Why change that?"

Here’s another counter-argument, and right now Holland is burying me so I hope this one helps.

What about how difficult it is for a team to come from behind in the standings at this time of year?

The Anaheim Ducks have gone 17-5-4 in their past 26 games and, while they’ve made up some ground, they remained seven points out of a playoff spot as of Friday morning.

This is largely due to other teams around them picking up points every night either in wins or often in OT/SO losses. It clogs up the standings.

Given that 14 of Anaheim’s 17 wins were in regulation during that stretch, wouldn’t it be more accurate to reward the Ducks for all those regulation-time victories?

One of the reasons the GMs buried the idea in February 2007 is that they were given data that suggested the standings actually wouldn’t look that much different. Indeed, when TSN stats guru Kevin Gibson ran the standings with the 3-2-1 points system Friday, there were a few variances. In the end, 15 of the 16 teams that hold playoff spots in the real standings still held on in the new format, the difference was Washington edging Winnipeg for the eighth spot on wins.

One of the more noticeable differences was New Jersey. The Devils lead the NHL this season with 14 extra-time victories. Under the new format, they’re suddenly fighting for their playoff lives, just two points ahead of Washington and Winnipeg.

As for the Ducks, they’d be nine points behind Dallas for the final playoff spot, although with three points up for grabs in regulation on a nightly basis, perhaps they'd have a more realistic shot at making up that ground.

What’s important to note, however, is that there’s no real way of knowing how the 3-2-1 points system would really affect today’s standings unless teams were playing with that three-point, 60-minute carrot from the drop of the puck last fall. Surely, many a game would have had a different outlook and ending with teams knowing there were more points at stake in regulation. As it stands now, teams try to protect the loser point when a game is tied late in regulation. In the 3-2-1 system, they might go for it instead.

But you really don’t know until you try it.

Another NHL GM, who didn’t want to be quoted on the record Friday, warned of this possibility.

"You could have a tie game with five minutes to go in regulation and suddenly a team pulls their goalie because they desperately need those three points to move up the standings late in the season," said the GM. "And then they get an empty-net goal scored on them and the other team gets handed three bonus points instead, which could have a huge impact on whatever club was chasing that team. Get it?"

I hadn’t thought of that one. Good point.

I’ve banged my head against the wall long enough on this one. As Yzerman pointed out, there’s just not enough support to change it.

The standings are close, and that’s all most people care about.

Holland has pushed another idea instead. He’d like to see overtime extended so that if the four-on-four, five-minute period doesn’t produce a goal, there’s another five-minute period but at three-on-three before it ever gets to a shootout.

"The races are so close, the more games decided by playing hockey the better," said Holland, not hiding his feelings on the shootout.

Hmm, not a bad idea. Perhaps I’ve found something new to push, eh?


A look at what today's standings would look like if a regulation win was worth three points, an overtime or shootout win was worth two points and an overtime or shootout loss was worth one point.
Complete NHL standings »

Eastern Conference:
Team Reg. Wins Record Current Points Adjusted Points N.Y. Rangers 32 41-15-6 88 120 Boston 29 38-21-3 79 108 Pittsburgh 27 37-21-5 79 106 Philadelphia 28 35-21-7 77 105 Ottawa 25 34-23-8 76 101 Florida 25 30-21-12 73 97 New Jersey 21 35-23-5 75 96 Washington 25 32-26-5 69 94 Winnipeg 24 31-27-8 70 94 Buffalo 21 29-27-8 66 87 Toronto 22 29-28-7 65 87 Tampa Bay 21 29-28-6 64 85 Carolina 22 24-27-13 61 83 Montreal 19 25-30-10 60 79 N.Y. Islanders 18 26-29-9 61 79

Western Conference:
Team Reg. Wins Record Current Points Adjusted Points Detroit 32 42-19-3 87 119 Vancouver 29 41-16-8 90 119 Nashville 31 37-20-7 81 112 St. Louis 33 40-18-7 87 110 Chicago 27 34-24-7 75 102 Phoenix 25 33-22-9 75 100 San Jose 26 33-23-7 73 99 Dallas 25 33-26-5 71 96 Calgary 25 29-24-11 69 94 Los Angeles 22 29-23-12 70 92 Colorado 21 33-28-4 70 91 Anaheim 23 27-27-10 64 87 Minnesota 21 28-26-10 66 87 Edmonton 20 25-32-6 56 76 Columbus 14 19-38-7 45 59 Courtesy of TSN's Kevin Gibson

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