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Rangers Fair Well under Olympic Point System plus the Case for Dueling Power Play OT

Despite the past three rather disappointing outings, the body of work of this Rangers club has been a well-rounded one, with competitiveness in almost all facets of play. However, a quick glance at the league standings shows a glaring weakness -- getting overtime points. Even with Wednesday night's result, the team is dead last in the league in registering those 1-point OT finishes (only 4). Clearly, this team has failed to take advantage of the NHL overtime system.

A relic of the tie and perhaps an accidental fixture of the regular season NHL point structure, the overtime point is anything but universally adored. You can always find voices in the crowd who vehemently want to do away with the so-called "loser's point". An oddity without parallel in other professional sports, it promotes incentives for conservative play at the end of regulation, pads the standings (but seemingly never for your team), and just feels wrong.

Worst of all is the sting of checking results around the league only to see a division battle away from the Rangers having gone to OT, bringing to fruition that "impossible" scenario of the Blueshirts losing ground to both teams in the standings.

Overtime is actually a pretty frequent occurrence -- 25.2% of all games across the league this season (through Wednesday March 5th) have failed to reach their end in regulation. That rate has risen in the period since the lockout with the weighted average of the last four regular seasons having been 24.0%, which was also up from the 22.7% rate for the four seasons before that. The league has therefore grown accustomed to awarding about 300 consolidation prizes in a full regular season of 1,230 games, with the "average team" getting 10 OT points. Since the "average team" also wins and loses half of its games, the distribution of these points is what matters.

The Blackhawks, Devils, Red Wings, Senators, and Coyotes top the list of those feasting on 1-pointers this season, while the Rangers, Penguins, Bruins, Ducks, Lightning, Avalanche, and Blue Jackets have been cashing in the least (hey, that's not bad company).

And OT wins? The Rangers haven't accumulated much of those either -- just 5. In fact, only three times has a team completing a full 82-game season since the lockout gone to overtime at a lower rate than this team's 14.2% (9 trips to OT in 63 games played). The team's proficiency for reaching a result before overtime and racking up regulation wins does not earn it any meaningful accolades in the NHL. That would not be the case under, say, the Olympic point system.

With no bonuses, the Olympic standings only giveth to the OT loser what they taketh away from the OT winner in a 3-point system. And, the resulting relative value of a regulation win to a OT loss is greater than in the NHL (3-to-1 versus 2-to-1).

What would be the effect of putting Olympic scoring in place in the NHL? One way to gain some intuition for the move to the 3-pt system is to normalize the Olympic point tally for each team to the 2-pt world in which the NHL lives (by simply dividing by 3 and multiplying by 2). Compared to the actual NHL point tally, each team loses its OT points and 2/3s of its games over .500 in OT. Since the league is by definition .500, the aggregate difference is simply total OT points, with each individual team taking a re-casted share based on its OT record. In this way, you could interpret the rightmost column in the table below as the inflation in NHL standings for each team as compared to an Olympic benchmark. (For example, Nashville's rather high number of OT loss points is offset by a low proficiency to register wins after regulation expires, whereas San Jose's average OT loss points are magnified by its high number of wins post-regulation.)

By this measure, through Wednesday March 5th, the Rangers had the least inflated point total in the league. In fact, the last team to have lower inflation (to the Olympic benchmark) in a full 82-game regular season than what the Rangers have been on pace for was the Stanley Cup champion 2010-11 Boston Bruins.

OLYMPIC Point Scoring (3/5/14)

Team

OLYMPIC Points
(3-0/2-1)

Normalized OLYMPIC Points
(x 2/3)

NHL
Points

NHL
OT Pts

2/3 games
over/ (under)
.500 in OT

Inflation in NHL Pts to OLYMPIC benchmark

NYR

98

65.3

70

4

0.7

4.7

CBJ

96

64.0

69

5

0.0

5.0

BOS

117

78.0

83

5

0.0

5.0

PHI

100

66.7

72

6

-0.7

5.3

NAS

85

56.7

62

10

-4.7

5.3

EDM

66

44.0

50

8

-2.0

6.0

DAL

93

62.0

68

10

-4.0

6.0

PIT

120

80.0

86

4

2.0

6.0

CAR

85

56.7

63

9

-2.7

6.3

ANA

128

85.3

92

6

0.7

6.7

FL

69

46.0

53

7

0.0

7.0

OTT

86

57.3

65

11

-3.3

7.7

COL

116

77.3

85

5

2.7

7.7

CHI

117

78.0

86

14

-6.0

8.0

MIN

100

66.7

75

7

1.3

8.3

PHO

88

58.7

67

11

-2.7

8.3

LA

101

67.3

76

6

2.7

8.7

MON

102

68.0

77

7

2.0

9.0

STL

119

79.3

88

6

2.7

8.7

DET

89

59.3

68

12

-3.3

8.7

BUF

53

35.3

44

8

0.7

8.7

WIN

87

58.0

67

7

2.0

9.0

TB

96

64.0

73

5

4.0

9.0

VAN

85

56.7

66

10

-0.7

9.3

NYI

70

46.7

56

8

1.3

9.3

NJD

86

57.3

67

13

-3.3

9.7

CAL

68

45.3

55

7

2.7

9.7

TOR

95

63.3

74

8

2.7

10.7

SJS

111

74.0

85

7

4.0

11.0

WAS

85

56.7

68

10

1.3

11.3

TOTAL

236

0.0

236.0

This analysis can be repeated for a modified 3-pt system where winner takes all until the shoot-out. Relative to this 3-0 regulation / 3-0 OT / 2-1 shoot-out benchmark, a team's point inflation in the NHL is equal to OT loss points plus 2/3s of games over .500 in the shoot-out. Again, aggregate inflation will still be total OT points across the league, but it will be distributed based on shoot-out record. In part due to going 4-2 in the shoot-out, the Rangers do not look quite as uninflated in this paradigm, falling short of this year's Bruins, Ducks, and Avalanche, all of whom have faired worse in the shoot-out better than in the 4-on-4 OT.

MODIFIED OLYMPIC Point Scoring (3/5/14)

Team

MOD
OLY Points
(3-0/3-0/
2-1)

Normalized MOD OLYM Points
(x 2/3)

NHL
Points

NHL
OT Pts

2/3 games
over/ (under)
.500 in SO

Inflation in NHL Pts to MOD OLY benchmark

BOS

119

79.3

83

5

-1.3

3.7

ANA

132

88.0

92

6

-2.0

4.0

PHI

101

67.3

72

6

-1.3

4.7

COL

120

80.0

85

5

0.0

5.0

NYR

97

64.7

70

4

1.3

5.3

PIT

121

80.7

86

4

1.3

5.3

NAS

84

56.0

62

10

-4.0

6.0

TB

99

66.0

73

5

2.0

7.0

CBJ

93

62.0

69

5

2.0

7.0

VAN

88

58.7

66

10

-2.7

7.3

LA

103

68.7

76

6

1.3

7.3

WIN

89

59.3

67

7

0.7

7.7

NJD

89

59.3

67

13

-5.3

7.7

CAR

83

55.3

63

9

-1.3

7.7

CAL

71

47.3

55

7

0.7

7.7

EDM

63

42.0

50

8

0.0

8.0

MON

103

68.7

77

7

1.3

8.3

FL

67

44.7

53

7

1.3

8.3

STL

119

79.3

88

6

2.7

8.7

OTT

84

56.0

65

11

-2.0

9.0

MIN

99

66.0

75

7

2.0

9.0

NYI

70

46.7

56

8

1.3

9.3

DAL

88

58.7

68

10

-0.7

9.3

DET

88

58.7

68

12

-2.7

9.3

BUF

52

34.7

44

8

1.3

9.3

SJS

113

75.3

85

7

2.7

9.7

PHO

85

56.7

67

11

-0.7

10.3

WAS

86

57.3

68

10

0.7

10.7

TOR

94

62.7

74

8

3.3

11.3

CHI

111

74.0

86

14

-2.0

12.0

TOTAL

236

0.0

236.0

And what about the playoff picture? As of Wednesday March 5th, it would have changed relatively little under these alternate point systems. See chart below -- Toronto falls due its inflated point total, there is some shuffling of the top three teams in the Central, and Winnipeg gains on Dallas in the Modified Olympic point system.

However, what's dramatic is the dispersion of the logjam of teams vying for a playoff spot in the East, moving from the NHL point system to either alternative. OT points then have been a contributing factor to the competitiveness of the playoff race, compressing the standings and propelling a crowd of would-be contenders on the heels of the Rangers. See table below with first round playoff match-ups as of March 5th and points or normalized points in (+) or out (-) of the playoffs:

NHL Pt System
(2-0/2-1/2-1)

OLYMPIC Pt System
(3-0/2-1/2-1)

MOD OLYMPIC Pt System
(3-0/3-0/2-1)

East

PIT (+17) v CBJ (+0)

PIT (+16.7) v TOR (+0)

PIT (+18.7) v CBJ (+0)

PHI (+3) v NYR (+1)

PHI (+3.3) v NYR (+2)

PHI (+5.3) v NYR (+2.7)

BOS (+14) v TB (+4)

BOS (+14.7) v CBJ (+0.7)

BOS (+17.3) v TOR (+0.7)

MON (+8) v TOR (+5)

MON (+4.7) v TB (+0.7)

MON (+6.7) v TB (+4)

DET (-1)

DET (-4)

NJD (-2.7)

WAS (-1)

NJD (-6)

DET (-3.3)

NJD (-2)

OTT (-6)

WAS (-4.7)

OTT (-4)

CAR (-6.7)

OTT (-6)

CAR (-6)

WAS (-6.7)

CAR (-6.7)

West

STL (+20) v MIN (+7)

STL (+17.3) v MIN (+4.7)

COL (+20.7) v MIN (+6.7)

CHI (+18) v COL (+17)

CHI (+16) v COL (+15.3)

STL (+20) v CHI (+14.7)

ANA (+24) v DAL (+0)

ANA (+23.3) v DAL (+0)

ANA (+28.7) v WIN (+0)

SJS (+17) v LA (+8)

SJS (+12) v LA (+5.3)

SJS (+16) v LA (+9.3)

PHO (-1)

PHO (-3.3)

DAL (-0.7)

WIN (-1)

WIN (-4)

VAN (-0.7)

VAN (-2)

NAS (-5.3)

PHO (-2.7)

NAS (-6)

VAN (-5.3)

NAS (-3.3)

So is the Olympic scoring system a panacea that can weed out the pretenders and should therefore be implemented in the NHL?

Larry Sutter doesn't think so. Asked at the conclusion of the Olympic break if the NHL should adopt the Olympic system, the coach of the LA Kings apparently responded with a definitive no. Coach Sutter's perspective was a mix of traditionalism & anti-change, largely in the spirit of preserving historical comparability, but his comments drifted to his distaste for the post-OT one-on-one display and quickly revealed himself to be strongly anti- shoot-out.

The OT point and the shoot-out have become two hopelessly intertwined topics, and, without a compelling alternative to the status quo, support could be lacking for any marginal changes around the edges in the current NHL system.

The linkage is probably due to today's OT not being particularly effective at avoiding the shoot-out, even with the extra open ice afforded by 4-on-4 play. Only 40% (roughly) of games that enter OT find their conclusion in team hockey. That means, of the average team's 20 trips to overtime, 12 are going to be determined in one-on-one combat.

Personally, I am not a shoot-out hater. I was just as far on the edge of my seat as the next guy during the T.J. Oshie / Jonathan Quick show put on in Sochi. But why does the team play so critical to the rest of the game have to be pushed to the bench during these decisive moments?

While quite possibly in the minority, many of us who tune into an NHL game are wowed by the breakaway no more than by the visionary pass that springs it. The crisp puck movement that sets up a scoring chance builds just as much electricity for us as the finish that lights the lamp. The crushing check that swings momentum or the brilliant defensive stop that transitions play the other way -- none of this can be found in the so-called "skills competition".

All of these deficiencies speak against letting penalty shots determine the outcome. However, with the tie having been deemed universally unsatisfying, games have to be brought to conclusion in some way. Yes, there are proposals to extend overtime with various twists (e.g., 3-on-3), but these are regular season games where players have to suit-up for 60 minutes of intense 2-way play 82 times a season, sometimes in back-to-backs.

Can the NHL possibly take a cue from another professional sports league -- oh, perhaps the most successful one out there? The parallel is a loose one at best, but the NFL will be in its third year of a regular season OT format that, in a way (kind of / sort of), gives each team's offense a chance to close out the game against the opposing team's defense. Stretching a poor analogy a little further, it would be like letting the special teams on ice have a crack at, quite literally, settling the score. Yes, I am advocating for dueling power plays as an alternative to today's NHL overtime / shoot out.

Call it "man-advantage-time" -- each team has an opportunity to score in its own 2-minute mini-period. You can think about it like the sudden death portion of the shoot-out but with power plays instead of penalty shots. Start with 5-on-4 and, if there is still no winner, try it again with a second 5-on-3 frame.

How great would it be to showcase at the climax of a game not only the offensive play of Richards, Nash, Zuccarello, and now St. Louis on the PP but the defensive play of guys like Staal, Boyle, Hagelin, and Dom Moore on the PK?

Unfortunately, this OT format would play to the strength of this year's Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins, who stood at #1 and #2 on the PP and PK, respectively. No team has been that dominant on special teams since Alain Vigneault's 2010-11 Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks. We can only hope Coach Vigneault's discipline to run the PP at the end of every practice can continue to improve the Ranger's odd-man performance.

There would be a fair amount of rule-making decisions to work through, but here is a starting framework for the man-advantage session:

  • Ending the game. At the conclusion of a full frame, if one team has more scores than the other, it wins.
  • Ending a frame. A frame concludes with each team having taken a turn "attacking". Like an inning in baseball, if the "attacking" team in the bottom half has the lead, the frame (and game) is over without playing it out.
  • Ending a half-inning. The man-advantage opportunity for a team concludes by either (a) the "attacking" team scoring a goal, (b) the allotted time elapsing with the "attacking" team failing to score, or (c) the "attacking" team taking a penalty that causes it to have less men on the ice than the "killing" team. The "attacking" team can register only one goal in its half frame.
  • Goals by the "killing" team. A short-handed goal does not bring a half-inning to an end unless the "killing" team's goal renders it impossible for the "attacking" team to tie the game in the current frame. In other words, the "killing" team could end the game then and there in the top half of a frame with two short-handers -- the Maple Leafs know that it is very possible, having just had it happen to them twice in one week, once at MSG and the other at the hands of Michael Grabner all on his own -- or in the bottom half with a single short-handed goal if it had successfully taken care of business in the top half of the frame. Still, a SHG combined with a successful kill for the remainder of the allotted time would win the day.
  • Penalties. Special treatment is given to penalties committed by the "killing" team while those on the "attacking" team are more-or-less dealt with conventionally. All "killing" penalties are served in succession without altering the number of "killing" skaters and therefore extend the original 2-minute half of frame, even in the 5-on-4. An "attacking" penalty cancels the odd-man advantage but does not end the half frame -- play continues (at even strength 4-on-4 in the first 5-on-4 frame or at 4-on-3 in the second 5-on-3 frame). The "killing" team is not permitted to have a man advantage --rather, the half frame ends. A player stays in the box for the duration of his penalty, even if that time crosses a half or full frame. Similarly, any carry-over penalties from regulation do not impact skaters on the ice, but players in the box must remain there until their penalty time has fully served.

    (The "killing" team penalties extending the half frame is an attempt to treat these infractions committed equally across time. A penalty 10 seconds into the mini-period should carry the same consequences as that occurring with only 10 seconds remaining -- otherwise, the "killing" team is going to be incentivized to let caution to the wind and hack away at the end of a half frame. A "killing" team player would go to the box immediately to serve the duration of his penalty and not be available to his club until a stop in play after his penalty time elapsed.)
  • Attacking sequence. Home team selects whether to "attack" or "kill" first, and the order stays the same for any needed second frame.
  • Starting play. Like any PP, a half frame begins with the "attacking" team taking the face-off draw in its offensive zone.
  • Goalies. There is no restriction on either team taking its goalie off the ice for the extra skater.
  • Timeouts. None -- any carried into the "man advantage" session are cancelled.

All the components of team play would be on display, including coaching strategy -- line changes, utilization of personnel across PP and PK, whether to attack first, and decisions on when to pull the goalie. (Attacking second would seem to have the advantage of having the option to put the extra skater on at the tail end of the frame if needed.) Coaches would also be a bit more accountable for their team's power play performance -- are you paying attention, John Tortorella?

Given the tension each power play in regulation generates, you have all the ingredients for an electrifying OT session.

But would it be decisive? The 5-on-4 PP success rate across the league runs at about 17%, so the chances of the first frame determining the outcome is only about 28% (i.e., the probability of either team scoring but not the other = 2 x 0.17 x 0.83). However, assuming a 50% scoring rate on a full 2-minute 5-on-3 (that figure is a bit of a flyer but probably not an awful guess given this year's 5-on-3 scoring rate adjusted for the ratio of the average time of 5-on-4 opportunities to that of 5-on-3), the likely success rate of reaching a definitive outcome through both frames climbs to 64%, a substantial improvement over today's overtime "closing" rate. That's not too bad for 8 schedule minutes of team play that absolutely has to have some quality scoring chances, if not goals.

To this point, the question of where to go after two full frames of man-advantage play has been intentionally avoided. Shoot-out anyone? I would be satisfied calling it a night and chalking up a draw. Most of us have to get up the next morning to earn a living, and it is hard to say you didn't get your money's worth after 60 minutes of regulation followed by four power plays in a row. I am OK with the resulting 7 ties per team in a season, largely because there would be no such thing as "playing for the tie" (knowing you'd have to survive the power play duel).

Listen, I guess I could acquiesce to a shoot-out following man-advantage time. It is better than a game of keep-it-up with each team's best stick handling guy bouncing the puck in adjacent face-off circles, or better yet, the head coaches going rock-paper-scissors at center ice. Seriously, I would rather expand the man-advantage time with a third frame, say 4-on-3 inserted between the 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 if you wanted to try to reduce the resulting number of ties (you could then also shorten-up the mini-periods, particularly the 5-on-3).

To round this out, you would want to go with a point system that values regulation wins to avoid teams "playing for overtime". The whole package here is a 3-point regulation win, a 2-1 split of points in a man-advantage time that serves as OT, and the possibility of a tie (where each team goes home with a single point). Tie-breaker in the standings becomes win percentage, with ties counting as half-win, half-loss in that column.

So, how do you feel about that, Coach Sutter?

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