Dallas Stars Daily Links: The Loser Point Ruins Hockey Games

Ah, the good ol' ROW column. It's been the Stars friend for the majority of the last ten years of My NHL, and that first season (05-06) didn't require a huge ROW total on account of the Stars won 142% of their shootouts and got home ice for the playoffs, which was super useful up until Colorado said it wasn't.

This year was no exception, even with some serious overtime struggles. Dallas will finish the season with a comparable ROW total to LA and Winnipeg, both of whom are pretty good teams by every metric that we have.

Here's the thing though: ever since the introduction of the shootout, the loser point has more or less turned hockey into mid-season EPL soccer. (Or the NFL lately, know what I'm saying?) Even though ties don't exist on paper, teams are still doing everything they can to get that one guaranteed point after 60 minutes, and that has pretty consistently translated into lockdown, defense-first hockey in the third period:

At the end of tie games, teams across the league don’t play to win — they play not to lose.

It wasn’t always this way. For most of the NHL’s history and through the 1998-99 season, a team earned two points for a win in regulation or overtime, zero points for a loss, and one point for a tie. But in 2005, the NHL mandated shootouts at the end of overtime, which prompted a change in the point structure. Now, the winner would get two points and the overtime loser one. (From 1999 to 2005, the loser of an overtime game also received a point, but matches could also finish tied, with each squad earning a point.) By and large, the new structure encourages teams in tie games to try to play for overtime, where the total number of points awarded to the teams increases by 50 percent (three vs. two).

In today’s NHL, overtime frequently benefits both teams, which is why teams that are tied often holster their sticks. Take a look at this chart, which shows the expected goal (EG) rate per minute2 over the course of an NHL contest. EGs use shot distance and location from the NHL’s play-by-play data to estimate the number of goals that we expect the two teams to combine for during each minute of play. There’s something different about that third period.

The expected goal output is nearly identical between tied games and one-goal games from the 15th through 55th minutes of the game. But for the last five minutes, the number of EGs rises for one-goal games and drops for tied games.3

At the end of a tie game, benches shorten, and coaches change their behavior. Reirden, for example, says he is loath to send out a defenseman who might take an unnecessary risk, preferring a guy he knows will stay home and limit the opposition’s attacking chances, even if that means sacrificing a shot at getting a goal. [FiveThirtyEight]

Good graphs on that page, so it's definitely worth a look if you're more of a visual person than a "read words" person.

Certainly the Stars are a bit of an aberration in this department, as quite a few lost third-period leads (and a notable comeback or two) spring to mind from this season. Is that really the Stars' choice to abandon that crucial guaranteed point, though? I doubt it, although I haven't plumbed the data for their shot rates by minute mark of the period as of yet.

Hey, good news, though; teams don't just take their foot off the gas in the third period of games. They do it in the final third of the season as a whole, too:

While overtime rates have been consistently higher in the current point system, the late-season change is dramatic. Roughly two-thirds of the way through the season, OT rates spike; in the old system, without the loser point, rates plummeted late in the season. Spring is now the NHL’s overtime season.

The other way the game changes: Nonconference games become a lot more passive for both teams. The flip side of that is that teams try to win more often against in-conference teams.

"You have the mindset that you don’t want to have shared points, especially against teams in your own conference and more specifically against teams in your own division," Reirden said.


Parity is the word, as we all know by now. If this is really what the league intended, then it is working beautifully. Three-point games seem to be almost normal late in the season (and especially among teams your team is trailing).

The Stars have been an exciting team to watch from their opener against Chicago to that desperate third-period barrage against Calgary a few days ago. They are just about the most dominant team in the NHL when it comes to pushing play at the other net, but that isn't good enough in today's league. Asphyxiating defense, blocked shots, skilled power plays and well-timed counterattacks are the path to victory now, and too bad if that means you wind up with playoff games involving offensively meek clubs like the Blues and Canadiens instead of the crazed firefighting discotech that is this year's Dallas Stars offense.

I'm not pouting or anything--the Stars have to find ways to win in this league, not the one we wish existed; but if you're the NHL, which you are not, thankfully, are you really happy with these trends as you seek to get more fans watching your games? The Kings couldn't win a shootout to literally save their figurative life this year, and it might cost them the chance to defend their title despite being practically the best possession team in hockey. No matter how much you think fans enjoy the skills competition, that seems like a bigger problem than goalies handling the puck in the corners. That was a non sequitur, but it does remind you of just how bonkers this league has gotten. It has probably always been bonkers, but this kind of bonkers is worse, I think.

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I'm in Boston this weekend, so you'll have the pleasure of not reading my lies for a little while. You're welcome.

Patrick Eaves is the perfect candidate for the Masterton Trophy, says Mike Heika. [DMN]

Speaking of how exciting the Stars are to watch, did you know they are the best team in the conference at generating multi-shot shifts? Good piece here. [TSN]

If your March Madness bracket is shot like everyone else's, you can check out the enduring eight of the most Starsiest moments of the year. :( [Two Bearded Ladies]

Would you like a detailed breakdown of how Adam Pardy screwed up the other night? Here you are, folks. [Arctic Ice Hockey]

The Red Wings have a humdrum goalie conundrum. [WIiM]

If you're the Wild, whom do you most and least want to face in the playoffs? [Hockey Wilderness]

The Oilers' potential summer shopping might be a bit...ugly. [THN]

A minor league team did an April Fools prank about redesigning their logo, which I find just absolutely despicable. Misleading people about an aesthetic redesign? That's messed up. They should be imprisoned or at least frozen in carbonite. [THN]

Finally, remember that time a goal judge took April Fools Day a little too seriously and got ejected by the referee? [Greatest Hockey Legends]