SUN Hockey Pool

NHL needs three-point victories

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Now that the Maple Leafs are trying to claw their way back into the playoff race, the inequity of the points system is becoming apparent to some fans.

They're checking the scores and noticing that some nights, two teams battling the Leafs for the final playoff spot are both getting points -- even when they're playing each other.

The situation is not new to the NHL. But this year, with so many close races, it's becoming more of a matter for discussion.

And discussed it will be. This summer, there will be extensive reviews of the significant rule changes that were introduced after the lockout. By extension, some of the more established rules will come under review as well.

REWARDS SUCCESS

There are those who want to do away with the point that is awarded to a team that extends the game past regulation time. They say it rewards failure.

In fact, it rewards success. If a weak team has managed to stay equal to a superior team for 60 minutes, it is granted a point for its efforts.

It's nice to be able to sit up on your pedestal and sniff that if you can't win in overtime, you should go home empty-handed. But in the real world, hockey has to sell itself.

If a team is not one of the league's powerhouses but manages to hold off the league leader for 60 minutes, its fans expect to see some sort of reward. In sports, you're selling hope, and if the hope of a single point is there, you've got more to sell.

The answer is not to eliminate the point for a regulation-time tie. It is to award three points for a regulation-time victory.

The concept has been studied by the league and was ever so close to becoming a reality last summer. But at the last minute, the governors shot it down. It's quite likely that this summer, they may have a change of heart.

Because the NHL is run for the good of the weakest teams, the concept of keeping a point for a regulation tie is not going away. But for the sake of consistency, the same number of points should be available in every game.

You get three if you win in regulation time; and two if you win in extra time, whether it be during the overtime period or the shootout.

That approach significantly changes the approach of the scoreboard watchers. Now, if the teams your heroes are battling for a playoff spot go into overtime, you can gain ground on both of them by winning your next game in regulation.

Suppose, for example, that Atlanta, Toronto and the New York Islanders are in a three-way tie for eighth place. Atlanta beats the Islanders in a shootout. Under the existing situation, if the Leafs win their next game in regulation, they stay even with Atlanta and gain one lonely point on the Islanders.

But under the three-point situation, that same Leafs win would give them a two-point boost over the Islanders and one over Atlanta.

The three-point system would please both camps in the controversy. Those who want to see consistency would get it because you would no longer be awarding three points for some games and two for others.

At the same time, those who say the league is rewarding losers would gain a degree of satisfaction.

A team would still get its point for taking the game into overtime, but at the same time, it would be punished for not having won in regulation time.

The feeling among those who voted down the concept last summer was that if three points were at stake, coaches would resort to a trapping game to hang on to a third-period lead.

There is some truth to that. But if you believe coaches have that mindset, then you also have to accept that they'll resort to a trapping game to get the sure point if they're tied in the third period.

And for every coach who tries to cling to a late lead, there will be a coach who opens up to get those three big points.

Did anyone think of that?


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