• Bettman Doesn’t Give Points To Losers

    by  • July 7, 2013 • Hockey • 13 Comments

    An interesting topic popped up on Twitter this morning during the tennis, one that I haven’t written on for a while: overtime and shootout games and what sort of a conceptual framework we should have for understanding them.

    There are two schools of thought on this. The first one, which is incorrect, talks about team getting loser points for a loss in overtime or a shootout. It’s understandable that people think this because their frame of reference is the NHL’s previous system. Prior to 1999, if you lost a game, whenever you lost it, you were awarded zero points and may God have mercy on your soul. Now, if you lose a game in overtime or in a shootout, you get a point anyway, so it’s a loser point, right?

    Wrong. The second understanding of this, which is conceptually accurate, is one which pays attention to what is happening and when the points are awarded. Prior to 1999, if a game went to overtime, a team had yet to secure any points in the standings. What the NHL really did was change the point in the game at which points are awarded. Now, if regulation play finishes with the two teams tied in the standings, each team is awarded a point. You then play a five minute 4v4 game for an extra point and, if that doesn’t produce a winner, a shootout ensues.

    The misunderstanding from the first school of thought is exacerbated by the way in which the NHL presents the standings. Rather than a four column set of standings that accurately portrays what is going on (W-L-T-OT/SOW), they like the simplicity of the three column setup (W-L-OTL). This encourages people to think of OT/SOL points as being the “extra” point when the extra point is actually in the W column in disguise.

    This leads to people pointing to teams like the 2011-12 Florida Panthers, who went 7-18 in OT/SO and saying “Pfft. They’re only in the playoffs because of the Bettman point.” Really though, if you ignore everything that happened after sixty minutes, the Panthers collected 87 points, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers weren’t a very good team and fluked into a playoff appearance but it wasn’t because of what happened after sixty minutes. They didn’t do very well after regulation but, fortunately for them, they put away enough points that it didn’t matter.

    What about winning that extra point though? Is it a skill that reveals itself over the course of an NHL season? I tend to to think not. If something’s a skill, I expect that it will persist, from one season to the next. Wayne Gretzky was good at running up points one year, he was good at it the next year. It’s a skill. Is getting extra points a skill that’s persistent from season to the next? To test this, I calculated the difference between the average standings points an NHL team piled up after regulation and each team. So, in 2011-12, the average team earned ten extra points in OT and the Oilers earned seven – they were -3.

    I then paired each team with how they did the following season: 2005-06 with 2006-07, etc. I did this through to 2010-11 and 2011-12. We didn’t get a full season last year, so I didn’t want to dump that data into it. This gave me 180 pairs of numbers. I then sorted them into ten buckets. The first bucket had the 18 teams with the fewest OT/SOW points relative to league average. I repeated this until the tenth bucket had the 18 teams with the most OT/SOW points relative to league average. I then looked at how the 18 teams in each bucket performed in the following season.

    The 18 worst teams in my 180 teams averaged 5.4 SO/OT wins below league average in the first year. The next year, they averaged 0.2 wins better than average. The 18 best teams in my sample averaged 6.1 SO/OT wins above league average in the first year. The next year, they averaged 0.3 better than league average. You’d be hardpressed, I’d argue, to find any evidence of a persistent skill to this.

    As you’d expect, the correlation coefficient from year to the next in OT/SOW relative to league average is abysmal: 0.003. This is kind of crazy – if you had two identical teams and one had a really good year in the OT/SO department and the other a really poor one, you could see an 11 or 12 point difference and there’d be nothing actually between the teams. It’s like coaching/managerial career Russian roulette, in that the guy on the wrong end of chance stands a decent chance of seeing his employment terminated.

    Let’s contrast this with regulation points. We think that being a good team is an indicator that you’ll be a good team the following year but we know that winning OT/SO games doesn’t seem to be a repeatable skill. Is being better or worse than league average in regulation a repeatable thing? I repeated the same process outlined above for the same seasons and produced the table set out below.

    Obviously, the league average for regulation points in a non-lockout season will be 82. So the average team in my worst bucket here gets about 58 (82-24) regulation points in Year 1 and the average team in my best bucket gets about 105 (82+23) regulation points in Year 1. While they both move towards 82 points in Year 2, they aren’t remotely close to being indistinguishable in Year 2 as is the case with the best and worst teams at generating points relative to league average in OT/SO. In other words, while they may not be as good or bad as they appear (or they’re unable to sustain such suck, for reasons like replacing the guy who put JF Jacques on the first line, or such goodness because it’s a cap league), there is a real, persistent difference between them.

    The differences get a lot smaller once you’re away from the extremes though. The difference between a 90 regulation point team and a 73 regulation point team are smaller than they appear and probably have a lot to do with health and whether or not pucks go in. Note that the teams in bucket 8 average 90 regulation points in year 1 and 86 regulation points in year 2 while the teams in bucket 3 average 73 regulation points in year 1 and 80 regulation points in year 2.

    Why does all of this matter? Well if you’re running a hockey team or interested in hockey analysis, you have to be aware that the British aphorism is wrong: the table lies all the time. The introduction of OT/SO points means that it lies even more often than it did in the past and the way in which it’s presented as W-L-OTL makes the lies all the more cunning. People who want to understand what really happened have to be able to sort the truth from the lies or, put another way, the signal from the noise. The whole trick is figuring out what’s signal and what’s noise and obsessing about the signal while ignoring the noise.

    One last table: a look at the how the Oilers did in terms of standings points relative to the league average in regulation and OT/SO from 2005-06 to present, with the 2013 season converted to a per 82 game number.

    It’s a pretty cool little table, I think. You can see that the 2006-07 and 2007-08 teams were actually pretty similar overall, with the difference being that the 2007-08 team had the best season relative to the league average at OT/SO that’s yet occurred and the 2006-07 team getting skunked.

    That 2006-07 team is pretty interesting – they got 4 regulation points in their final 20 games which means, if you do the math, that they were actually a little bit better than the 2005-06 team in terms of earning regulation points to that point. Unfortunately, the 2005-06 could get OT/SO points and the 2005-06 team couldn’t so they blew up the team and traded Ryan Smyth.

    Then you see the 2008-09 team, which actually took a step back towards respectability in terms of regulation. The rebuilding of the team was paying some dividends, even if the team that they were building was unlikely to be one which could compete for the Cup at any point. It was disguised by the big drop in OT/SO points from the previous year though, so MacT left and Steve Tambellini declared that he was in charge and would deal with the few remaining embers and OH MY GOD A 60 FOOT TOWER OF FLAME.

    We (in the sense of people who find analytics useful) would probably benefit with a standings page somewhere that presents them in a W-L-T-OT/SOW format. If OTW/SOW points are just noise, standings that had them separated out or presented regulation points would be helpful in terms of a quick look to see if a team is for real or not. Someone, other than me, should get on that.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    13 Responses to Bettman Doesn’t Give Points To Losers

    1. speeds
      July 7, 2013 at

      Why do you think the NHL retained the current point structure after they introduced the shootout? If I recall correctly, the extra point was introduced to encourage teams to go for the win in OT, to create circumstances that would lead to more wins. However, once the shootout was introduced, they didn’t really need to encourage wins since all games would now result with someone winning.

    2. Curcro
      July 7, 2013 at

      Great article about the “Winner” point. They call it a Bonus Point in Rugby. Perception is always something the NHL could improve. My biggest annoyance is all the seconds that tick off from the time the refs whistle is blown to the scorekeeper realizing it – I have often that that there should be a relay from the referees whistle to the scorers table that detects the referee has blown his whistle and it automatically stops the clock.

      At any rate…

      A skill not developed is no less a skill.

      I would suggest that in the hierarchy of allotted time spent for an NHL team goes something like 5 v 5, 4 v 5, 3 v 5, 5 v 4, EN, 4 v 4, SO, 5 v 3, 3 v 4, 4 v 3. (This order is probably not correct.) This would be video, practice time etc. The further down on the chart you go, the more likely you are to have random results – UNLESS the principle from the associated situation applies well to the corresponding situation. For instance, does 1 man down PK, play the same way as 2 man down PK. I think that 5 v 5 game strategy is NOT effect for the 4 v 4 game – therefore it is more likely you will have random results I think.

      BTN doesn’t list 4 v 4, and I don’t have the time to dump all the NHL RTSS summaries. But it is my hunch that 5 v 5 does not equal 4 v 4.

    3. July 7, 2013 at

      With all due respect to the writer, the discussion regarding overtime and shootout points should be less of leaser importance if the league would adopt a fairer point allocation system per game. This discussion of OT/SO points gets the accountant & statistics side of my brain aggravated. If I factor in how badly I believe the league needs to find ways of opening up the game to create more offence then this subject really gets my emotions going. Allocating 2 points to the winner of a regulation, OT, or SO win is completely unfair and illogical, especially when you factor in the gimmicks of OT 4-on-4 and the shootout. How can anyone justify that some games be worth 2 points in the standings and others 3, depending on the score at the end of regulation?

      If the traditionalists can get over themselves with regards to a relatively meaningless record (most team points in a season), which has already been skewed since awarding the loser point, then the league can create a fair point system that could generate more offence and inspirational play during a 60 minute game. Simply adopting the soccer style 3 point regulation win system balances everything. (3 for regulation win, 2 for OT/SO win, 1 for OT/SO loss). Teams that play defence and attempt to play for a regulation tie night over night, especially in divisional games would soon find themselves near the bottom of their division as other more aggressive, offensive-minded teams accumulate 3 point regulation wins.

      It is such a simple and fair concept I cannot believe the league has gone this long without more resistance to the current system. I just wish more people that have influence with the league would buy in or realize that the current point system is statistically unfair and can have a negative impact on how the game is played.

      • ICDogg
        July 8, 2013 at

        I’ve advocated this for years, even before they implemented the current system.

    4. Jon
      July 7, 2013 at

      If the league average winning% isn’t 50%, there is a problem with the way you allocate points.

    5. July 8, 2013 at

      First time commenting here, so hopefully this works. Your first table is a great opportunity to do a chart which gets the point across really well. Click my name for my all-time favorite baseball stats chart, which shows something similar with Batting Average. Eyeballing the numbers here, you’d have some arrows crossing over, but it would get the point across.

    6. Pingback: Spectors Hockey | NHL Blog Beat – Monday, July 8, 2013.

    7. July 8, 2013 at

      It seems like that first analysis table (OT/SOW relative to league average) is somewhat flawed and is measuring regular season variance as well as extra time variance.

      Hypothetical stats for Team X:

      Team X 2009-2010: 16 overtime games played, record in overtime/shootout 8-8
      Team X 2010-2011: 6 overtime games played, record in overtime/shootout 3-3
      Team X 2011-2012: 20 overtime games played, record in overtime/shootout 10-10

      In extra time, Team X performed at a .500 rate every season. However, because of the variance in # of extra time games played, your table would have their results varying wildly from season to season and helping to show no correlation, when really all you’re doing is measuring the variance in Team X’s # of regulation ties.

      I don’t doubt that overtime/shootout results are extremely volatile, but I think removing this noise will lead to a slightly higher correlation than what you have written.

      • July 8, 2013 at

        Or obviously an even better example for Team X would be 16-0, 6-0, and 20-0 in those seasons respectively.

      • July 8, 2013 at

        I agree that splitting these three variables apart could be interesting. Is getting games to overtime a skill? I believe Tyler looked at this in a previous analysis of the 2007-08 Oilers, and found that wasn’t the case. And of course, overtime and shootouts require different skills as well. It could be that a team good at overtime is really bad at the shootout. The problem, of course, is that the more you break this stuff down, the harder it is to have a sample size that’s going to be meaningful.

        • Triumph
          July 9, 2013 at

          I believe getting games to overtime is a skill of sorts – a team that scores fewer goals and allows fewer should be playing more OT games than a team that scores more and gives up more.

    8. mc75
      July 9, 2013 at

      I like where you’re going with this :-)

      The reasons that OT point season-to-season comparisons per team don’t work is this is an apples and oranges comparison. For the numbers to really be useful, we need a slightly more detailed analysis. I’m left with more questions (which is always a good thing).

      Your analysis is taking into account the “loser point” only. How many wins happen in OT?

      In 05-06 the Oil had 13 overtime wins and 13 overtime losses!! That’s 26 OT/SO games! I don’t think that’s very average. That was the most in the league.


      In 05-06 how many of the Oilers’ OT/SO points are from the shoot-out? I don’t have those numbers in front of me.

      To me, this is more evidence of the Pronger effect. I would guess that Pronger forced a few of these games into overtime all by himself, and probably won more than a few of them too.

      What surprises me is that more teams haven’t signed shoot-out specialists like Omark. It seems possible to me that a player like Omark could tip the scale to force a team into the playoffs.

    9. Bill
      August 16, 2013 at

      People call it the loser point because it started in 1999-2000 with the loser point for OT losses. It used to be 2-0, 2-0, 1-1. Then they made it 2-0, 2-1, 1-1. That extra point is in the loss column so it’s a point for losing. A loser point, if you will.

      So now there’s a “loser point” but wait a shootout has appeared to break all ties after overtime. Now it’s 2-0, 2-1, 2-1. Oh look! A point is added in the win column on the last set. A “winner point”? NO!

      They can’t possibly have a W-L-OTL-SOW system. That would be ridiculous looking. The laughing stock of major pro sports.

      So they just say that all games are based around winning, but any game that is lost in overtime or the shootout gets a LOSER POINT. Yay!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *