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Keep it simple stupid and change the NHL points system

NHL executives have kicked around the idea of changing the game,(again) in order to cover up something they don't like. Complicating the situation to water down the problem is simply setting the stage for more problems to pop up.

The problem isn't the NHL shootout. The problem is giving credit for losing.
The problem isn't the NHL shootout. The problem is giving credit for losing.

"The more they over-think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."

- Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock"

Systems surround us in our lives and wherever we turn; a code to follow, a set of rules to abide by, a way to track statistics in a game, regulations of industry, branches of government, etc. There are systems everywhere.

Yet when you try to cover all the bases with a law (or what a law is supposed to prevent / enable), you end up creating more holes to exploit, or red tape that prevents the outcome that you were after.

Systems are also in place in design, architecture, and advertising. I learned a mantra a few years ago when I was involved in web design that I strongly believe in that defines the best way to implement a system of any variety: K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid. Every time you try to address every flaw or hole or complication that you find in a design or a system, you create another problem. That, or users just can't understand something grand you wanted them to use. To avoid this, keep it basic. Keep it clean. Make it practical, make it serve its intended role, and most importantly - make it function.

There are a lot of items in the world that I could point this lead at and go off on a rant of how over-complicating a basic system is fucking up the works, but this is a hockey blog, so my aim is at the National Hockey League.

That doesn't narrow things down much, does it? Things are overcomplicated in a lot of areas of the game. In a way, the entire NHL is an example of design and systems going bad. Yearly you have NHL general managers meeting with the sole intention of making changes to the game to "improve" it; to either complicate something they don't like so it stops happening or to enable something they do like to happen more often.

Some rules long outlived their usefulness but weren't mothballed until recently (an additional penalty for players with visors that fought); while other rules never had the intended affect that they were implemented for (the instigator).

One thing that's been bitched about for a number of years now, most often among traditionalists and hockey pundits, is the shootout. Ending a game with a "gimmick" that features individual achievement in a team sport is blasphemy and la-de-da. The fact I'm writing off criticism of the shootout so willingly is going to get me a load of grief in the end, but it's still true that it's a load of tripe to bemoan it.

And the NHL itself has seen the shootout as a "problem" for years. Note the date of publication of this New York Times Slap Shot blog entry.

When GM's last met, in the fall of 2013, they wanted to find a way to limit shootouts from happening so often and considered adding another gimmick (another "period" of overtime, this time featuring 3-vs-3 hockey). Finding a way to prevent the shootout would be favorable as a change for change sake, another over-complication in a game of over-complications.

What NHL general managers (and the hyper-traditionalists and pundits alike) don't take into consideration is a basic truth to the NHL game since the implementation of the shootout (and 4-on-4 overtime as well): it's a game of absolutes now. You win or you lose. The concept of no resolution (a tie) is gone. It brings a level of satisfaction to the end of a regular season game (and no, I don't want it in the playoffs.)

Trying to add a road-bump to prevent the shootout fails to acknowledge the problem that's led to GM's having issues with games going to overtime/the shootout so often: the NHL points system.

See, this is where the introduction quote really applies: By trying to add something to the system, the NHL continues to leave a very big exploitable hole in the game. Teams still get points for losses even though this is a game of absolutes. Despite those loses (in overtime or the shootout), teams are clinging to cozy places in the standings and have a shot at the playoffs.

Some believe the way to rectify that is to change the point system - adding points. I believe the discussed point system change is 3 points for a win, 2 for an overtime win or shootout win, 1 for an overtime or shootout loss and 0 for a regulation loss.

That's laughable.

Adding points does nothing; it simply looks to "improve" the situation and may or may not work to its intended effect. It builds on the basic problem instead of rectifying it - teams are getting credited for losses in a game of absolutes. While you see three columns next to any team in the standings (wins-losses-overtime/shootout losses), it's really just wins-losses. The only special thing about losing in overtime or the shootout is when it happened. It's still a loss.

Note that. It. Is. Still. A. Loss.

So you want to limit the shootout and water down the effect of forcing overtime / the shootout? Keep it simple, stupid. Over-complicating the point system isn't the answer, nor is trying to find more ways to put off finality if that finality comes by way of the shootout.

Less is more, and the solution is to this issue is to take out the loser point and the full credit of a win in extra time. 2 points for a regulation win, 1 point for an overtime / shootout win, 0 points for a loss. Take away the prize (a point) for going to extra time which is what drives this problem.

I can see this making some people hate the shootout more because a great effort and a stalemate of a game can be wiped out with nothing taken from it. That's how losses are supposed to feel, though! Regardless of how well or poorly a game is played, regardless of when the lead is conceded - be it in the opening seconds or with a failed shot by the last shooter to conclude a shootout. A loss is a loss, and it stings! It's supposed to sting! That's why we're taught not to lose - because losing sucks!

Adding points in the points system also leaves a great big hole: It leaves those teams forcing overtime/the shootout in a good place in the standings by still crediting them. Oh, they get less credit in a 3-2-1-0 point system, but a single point can go a long way in a tight playoff chase.

Of course, adding points is supposed to come off as a marketing tool as teams are able to boast (at least once) about getting the most points in a season in franchise history. That statement, if ever employed under a 3-2-1-0 points system should come with an asterisk by default; a possible 246 points are available to teams in an 82 game season in that system. That's a sight more than the current 164.

It's still overcomplicating a rather straight-forward issue. Heck, it's possible to even go further and eliminate the point system all together and base things off winning percentage alone (like the other major pro sports leagues). Tie breakers in the standings can be any number of things. I'm not keen on going in this direction because it's too dramatic a change from what base fans know (the point system). The major credible aspect of a non-points system is eliminating the unnecessary special-credit for wins (where and when they occur.) A win is a win, a loss is a loss, and overtime or the shootout is just extra opportunity to achieve a win or a loss. The major flaw is that teams don't have to necessarily play to win, they have to play to survive during regulation (specifically if they are good at 4-vs-4 or the shootout) and that's the same basic problem with the loser-point now. It doesn't guarantee a win, but odds improve for it.

Finality is not the problem with games, nor the avenue finality is achieved - regulation, overtime or the shootout. It's the fact the league insists on giving credit for participation that's the problem. You don't get credit just for showing up at work; you've got to earn that paycheck. You sure as shit ought to have to earn a win and not be credited just for surviving regulation without conceding victory.

Knowing the league, they'll find a round-about "solution" that overcomplicates simplicity, again... And then they'll have it exploited by one team or another and GMs will meet in years to come and ponder how to correct the latest issue that they created by way of a grand "fix" to a slight issue. That's just how it goes with this league.