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Contemplating The Values of Wins and Losses in The NHL

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Dallas split their season series with the Kings this year, but L.A. took 8 points away from it to the Stars' 6 thanks to the loser point.
Dallas split their season series with the Kings this year, but L.A. took 8 points away from it to the Stars' 6 thanks to the loser point.

In defeating the Vancouver Canucks last night at Rogers Arena, the Los Angeles Kings earned their 42nd victory of the season, so to speak.

42 wins, curiously, is the same number the Dallas Stars had when the season ended last weekend, and it's the same number the Phoenix Coyotes had last weekend when they were crowned Pacific Division Champions. The Kings qualified for the post-season having lost more games than they won this year at a totals of 40-42.

Los Angeles collected the "loser point" in abundance this season at 15. Phoenix nearly equaled them at 13. The Dallas Stars lost just 5 games after regulation and went to overtime 10 fewer times than Los Angeles did overall.

The question I was asked down the stretch by many casual sports fans who pay attention to hockey only as the playoffs near was this: How can a team that has fewer wins be ahead of the Stars in the standings? How does that make any sense? For people that watch primarily football, basketball and baseball, this does not appeal to their sense of logic.

When considered all by itself, the fact that only 11 teams in the National Hockey League won more games than the Dallas Stars this year sounds pretty good. That sounds like a playoff team. That's also, of course, a woefully incomplete view of the landscape under the current point system.

Should a loss be considered just a loss, regardless of when it occurs? Did the current point system send the right teams to the playoffs? Would making every game worth three points have helped Dallas this season?

Discussion after the jump...

Phoenix lost by three or more 13 times this year. Los Angeles did it just six times. The Dallas Stars lost by 3 or more goals 19 times - roughly a fourth of the season.

The team's average margin of defeat, including ALL kinds of losses...

Total Losses Goal Differential in Losses Average Margin of Defeat
PHX 40 -63 1.56
LAK 42 -55 1.31
DAL 40 -83 2.08

12 of the Stars 19 losses by three or more goals came before mid-January, illustrative of the Dallas' more consistent, competitive effort as the season went along, but late season progress in not getting blown out is hollow succor to a fan-base bereft of playoff hockey.

Any way you slice it, under the league's current point format the Kings and Coyotes, neither of whom won more games than Dallas, were more deserving of playoff spots. The system has properly awarded them for being competitive, consistent teams over the course of 82 games.

"Why do teams get awarded at all for losing games?" one might ask. "Isn't the point to win the games?" When NBA teams lose in triple overtime it still goes down as a 1 in the loss column. If you exhaust your entire bullpen in MLB only to lose in the 14th inning, you're awarded a loss. There's no compensation for a good try.

The only answer you'll ever get to these kinds of questions it that hockey is hockey and it's not going to change. Overtime loss points are awarded in most major European leagues as well, including the KHL. International play, including the 2010 Olympic round robin tournament, also uses such a system, though modified. The loser points keep the league competitive and keep nearly everyone "above .500".

Whether you agree with it or not, it's not very likely to change.

Should a series of 5-2 losses be considered the same in the standings as 2-1 losses in overtime? Is an 8-0 loss worth the same as a 1-0 shootout loss? Is "a loss a loss", or does the "loser point" help bring nuance and expression to the standings?

New Point System?

Altering the point system, as has been talked about on the internet more times than you could shake the old proverbial stick at, to 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an overtime/shootout win, and 1 point for an OT/SOL - wouldn't have changed things for Dallas this season either.

Phoenix won more games in regulation than the Stars did and the Kings equaled Dallas at 31. The standings between the three would look like this if all games were worth three points:

PHX 33 9 27 13 130
LAK 31 9 27 15 126
DAL 31 11 35 5 120

The Coyotes still come out on top, the Kings would still be a little better than Dallas, and PR departments everywhere would enthusiastically write about their new franchise record point total. For the record, I still think the league should consider this kind of point distribution when the CBA negotiations start. Every game is then worth 3 points. It might not matter, as demonstrated here, for the bubble teams battling to get in, but it will demonstrably separate the good teams from the mediocre, and it will subtract a little from the value of the shootout. That's always a good thing.

Ultimately the Stars missed the playoffs because when they got beat, they got BEAT. It is commendable that they won as many games as these other teams, but in the end they needed more consistency, and a few additional losing causes that got ugly after 60 minutes instead of after just 30 or 40.