NHL Point System Overhaul Would Be Game Changer

Do you wonder if the NHL point system were different what the standings may look like?  It’s different and affects the playoffs.

Something about the NHL point system came to a head inside me watching the Calgary Flames storm back from a 4-0 third period deficit against the Ottawa Senators.  It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard the obligatory comment this time of year about how one point in the standings is big in the playoff race.  But it was the first time I wondered about an NHL which didn’t reward merely making it to extra hockey.

I took my shots at a rumor about expanding the playoffs and now it’s time to take the NHL point system to task.  Next to seeing their team win the Stanley Cup, fans want to see good playoff hockey.  The easiest way to get that is by getting the eight best teams in each conference qualifying for the playoffs.  If the NHL point system changed you could be more assured of that than now.

When looking at the best teams in the regular season I like to look at wins in overtime or regulation.  You are winning the game in sixty minutes or finishing the game in overtime before the shootout.  Those teams need to be rewarded for those efforts with more points.  The longer it takes for you to win the game, fewer points are earned.  And get rid of points for losing games.  I don’t care if it’s in standard time, overtime or daylight savings time.  If you lose the game you get no points.  I’ll get to what that means toward the end of all this.

Let’s explore what the standings would look like if the NHL points system were 3-2-1 for this season and beyond.  Three points for a regulation win, two points for winning in overtime, and one point earned for winning the skills competition. No matter how you lose, the result would be the same – no points.  For the purpose of this I used the NHL standings on the morning of March 9th as found here on NHL.com.  To calculate the points I used this grid from sportingcharts.com.

Eastern Conference

The change to the 3-2-1 NHL point system would not change any of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams.  The Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings are still your top three seeds in the Atlantic Division.  The best in the Metropolitan Division remain the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.  And the wild card teams are still the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins.

Both division leaders would change.  Montreal would wind up with 110 points under my NHL point system (32×3 for regulations wins, 4 x 2 for OT wins, 6 shootout wins = 110 points).  And they would trail the Lightning by seven points thanks to Tampa Bay having five more wins in regulation.  The Islanders would trail in the Metropolitan division by two points to the Rangers.   So in the Eastern Conference playoff picture the only thing changing is the bracket.  Tampa Bay would then play Boston in the first round, and the Rangers would get the Capitals.  The rest of the bracket would have the Islanders and Penguins, and the Canadiens and Red Wings (nice!).

There are a few notable changes outside of the playoff qualifiers.  The Florida Panthers, now four points behind Boston, would fall behind the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. The Toronto Maple Leafs would leapfrog the Carolina Hurricanes and tie the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Only one team would actually wind up with fewer points under my NHL point system, that being the Buffalo Sabres whom would drop from 43 points to 42.  Wonder how that positioning would impact the NHL Entry Draft this year?

Western Conference

By contrast out West both division leaders, the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks, would continue to lead, and Anaheim would also maintain the overall conference lead by earning more victories.  Second place in both divisions would also hold with the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks.  Then things get very, very interesting.

The Minnesota Wild would pass the Chicago Blackhawks for third place in the Central division by three points using my NHL point system (99 versus 96 points).  The Blackhawks would still be in the playoffs as the first wild card.  The Calgary Flames (yes, those Flames) would hold on to third in the Pacific Division.

That brings us to the Winnipeg Jets, whom would wind up with 83 points in my system.  They would be passed by the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, and all would be right in southern California.  Just not for Los Angeles.  Because the San Jose Sharks, whom have been criticized for staying the course too long, would jump the King and Jets and lead the race for the last wild card spot by two points over the Kings.  No guarantee they hold it but that’s a big, meaningful shift in the playoff picture.

Towards the bottom, the Dallas Stars would pass the Colorado Avalanche.  And both the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers would still be in the basement.  Interesting that the Oilers would lose four points under my proposed system.  What’s more fun to consider this year with the Connor McDavid sweepstakes is that Buffalo, whom leads that race to the bottom by four points now, would see that lead over Edmonton chopped to a single point.  The Coyotes would be eight points clear of Buffalo instead of the current six.


When every team has finished playing 82 games the best of the best need to remain.  With the Western Conference playoff picture changing under my NHL point system, it’s reasonable to question if that’s happening.  The top seeds did not change though the positioning did.  And San Jose gets rewarded for winning more games as they are meant to be won.  If that results in better seven and eight seeds we would be in for more first round playoff upsets.

We don’t know that, however, because the NHL has put a premium on the shootout and not a better quality sixty minute game.  With more precious points available the sooner you can win the game you will see teams behaving more like the Calgary Flames, fearlessly roaring back from deficit after deficit to force overtime and win games late.  Fighting for those precious points as the season goes on, imagine having to win a game in regulation instead of overtime in order to qualify for the playoffs.

That’s how you increase scoring, create rivalries and drama.  You put more on the line and just let the best players in the world take matters into their own hands.  You can mess with the nets, or the sticks or the goaltenders equipment but the bottom line is teams are rewarded for conservative play.  The NHL point system should be the one change made to instantly improve the quality of games and get the best teams into the playoffs.