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Multiple Possible Outcomes
Written June 13, 2021, and February 20, 2022


Let me see if I've got this right.  Hockey has both team and individual “points.”

In the league standings,
wins and ties
earn POINTS for teams.

In the individual stats,
goals and assists
earn points for players

To reduce confusion, I'm going to continue to call the team numbers “POINTS.”  But I'm going to rename the player stats as “gapts.”  There will be no further discussion of gapts.

Hockey also has two kinds of “ties.”

One kind refers to games where both teams have the same number of goals.  (In soccer, these are called “draws.”)

The other refers to standings where both teams have the same number of POINTS.  (In soccer, we might say they're “level” in the standings.)

To reduce confusion, I'm going to continue to refer to equal-goals draws as “ties” but rename level-standings situations as “standoffs.”

When I started televising National Hockey League games forty years ago, there were two POINTS at stake every night to be claimed by the winning team.  If the score was even after 60 minutes, a 10-minute overtime (OT) was played to try to settle the issue; if that didn't work, the game was officially declared a tie.  The two POINTS were divided, one POINT for each team.  Everybody went home.

(However, in the postseason tournament there can be no ties because every game must have a winner.  Teams with the same number of goals after 60 minutes play a sudden-death overtime period of up to 20 minutes ... and if necessary another and another and another and another.  In 1990 I worked on producer Brian Cooper's telecast of a five-overtime Philadelphia Flyers game that wasn't settled until 2:35 AM.)

The regular-season POINT totals determine the league standings.  Suppose two teams end the 82-game season with 90 POINTS each, as shown below.  In case of a such a standoff, there are standoff-breaker rules.    

In those days, the higher place would be awarded to Team A based on the “more wins” criterion, 39 to 36.

In 1992 the Winter Olympics introduced the shootout to hockey.  As in tied soccer tournament games, alternating players take penalty shots until one team has made more.  NHL fans liked the idea.  Finally, for the 2005-06 season, the NHL reduced the overtime to five minutes; then, if neither team scored in OT, the issue was decided by a shootout.

Hockey traditionalists objected.  It used to be that a team tied in goals was awarded a POINT in the standings.  Now, that team could lose the shootout — and get zero POINTS?  The shootout wasn't even “real hockey,” which requires passing and checking and defense.  It was a glorified skills competition, shooting versus goaltending.

Therefore the league decided that for any game tied in regulation, three POINTS would be awarded.  The ultimate winner would get two POINTS as usual, while the loser would still receive its one for achieving a tie.  It has become known as a “Loser POINT.”

On February 5 of that 2005-06 season, I happened to be in Montreal helping televise a Flyers game back to Philadelphia.  In the front of the mobile unit before airtime, there was debate between Mr. Cooper and others about what now constituted “overtime.”  If a game is tied at the end of regulation, it becomes an overtime game.  After another five minutes, the score is still tied, so the game becomes a shootout game.  Does it still qualify as an overtime game?

As it turns out, it does makes a difference, and the answer is no.

You see, hockey traditionalists still weren't happy.  In my earlier example, suppose that Team A's 39 wins had included five wins by shootout, and team B's 37 wins had included only one by shootout.  The numbers in blue are each worth two POINTS in the standings; the numbers in green, one POINT

But because shootouts (SO) are not “real hockey,” it was decreed that the standoff-breaker should not include those tainted SO wins.  Counting only Regulation and Overtime Wins (ROW), we discover that Team B wins the standoff-breaker, 35 to 34.

To save space on a standings chart, the numbers I've labeled “Reg Losses” and “OT+SO Losses” are usually identified simply as L and OTL.  What happened to SOL?  No, I think the headings should be RL and LP (Regulation Losses and Loser Points).

Let's look at some actual numbers.  After last Saturday's action, Carolina and Pittsburgh were in a Metropolitan Division standoff with W.RL.LP records of 33.11.4 and 31.12.8 respectively, each worth 70 POINTS.

However, during the course of the season when the number of games played can differ, there's yet another way to resolve a standoff.  Carolina having played only 48 games to Pittsburgh's 51, the Hurricanes have three “games in hand” on their schedule — three additional future opportunities to increase their POINT total — so they're actually in the lead.

If I ruled the world, there could be no ties.  Simply keep track of which team scores the first goal.  The game is now that team's to lose.  In the case of equal numbers of goals after 60 minutes, that early-scoring team would be declared the winner!  (If neither team had managed to score, which happens in only one NHL game out of a hundred, maybe I'd allow a shootout.)

The standings would be based merely on won-lost records, like baseball.  Carolina might be 35.13 and Pittsburgh 34.17, 2½ games behind.  Then we could forget all those Loser POINTS and five-overtime marathons.



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