… And the Points Don’t Matter

(also known as: How Someone Needs to Stop Watching Old Whose Line Is It Anyways Episodes on Youtube)

I wrote about the shootout earlier, and asked why we need one at all. I am not a fan, I don’t think they fit the spirit of the game, and that they end the game on a sour note, regardless of the outcome. But obviously playing 6-period games like in this spring’s playoffs is also not an option during the regular season. So I ask again: why not agree to a tie?

And then I started thinking some more, about how I have both here and in the real world, complained about the unfair (in my mind at least) point schemes favoring the overtime. Why should we reward a losing team with a point for “good effort” if they keep the game close enough to make it to overtime, yet we do no such thing regarding the closeness of the game on regular time. Is a game that ends 0-1 on overtime really that much closer than a game that ends 0-1 on regular time? What about games that end 0-1 and 0-7, both on regular time? Isn’t the first game much closer than the latter? Yet the losing team gets no extra point there! So on one hand we’re saying a win is a win, no matter the goal difference. But then on the other hand we’re rewarding teams for “keeping it tight” and for putting up a good fight. Doesn’t seem logical.

All these different point schemes and spreads and schedules were running circles in my mind, so I decided to join them and play around a little. See what happens. I came up with 4 different possible point schemes:

– the one used in the Finnish league now. That is, win on regular time is worth 3 points. If the game goes to overtime, both teams get a point, and the team that wins gets additional point. Total points per game: 3

– modified 3 point game. As above, unless the game goes to Shootout. At that point it’s called a tie, and both teams get 1.5 points.

– 2 point plan. Win on regular time is worth 2 points, regardless of whether the game ends on regular time, overtime or in shootouts.

– modified 2 point plan. Win is worth 2 points on regular time and overtime. If the game goes to Shootout, it’s called a tie and both teams get a point.

I took the game-by-game regular season results for the Finnish league this year, the 2014-15 season, and reassigned the points for each game according to the different alternatives. Tallied them up, ranked the teams and compared the results. I also calculated the win percentages of the team, to provide a proxy for team quality independent of the point scheme used.

Comparison of points schemes

As the figure above shows, the different point schemes don’t really significantly rearrange the teams. (I did not assign secondary criteria for the rankings, so there are some teams with equal rank.) The 2014-15 line is obviously the status quo plan, with the “3p/g w ties” short for “3 point games with ties”. Similarly, “2p/g” and “2p/g w ties” represent the 2 point schemes without and with ties allowed, respectively.

The Top-8 teams would have been the same under all considerations, except for 2 point games with ties -scheme lifting Ässät to 8th place and dropping KalPa to 9th. If we consider the “pity-playoffs”, that is the Top-10 teams, the same teams show up under all considerations. Obviously there are some team-specific differences, like Blues climbing up to 2nd place under the 2 points/game scheme, or Lukko alternating between 3rd and 8th place. Mostly though, the differences are not significant.

What’s the best alternative?

Well, there isn’t one, really. The points don’t matter, apart from few special cases like mentioned above. I summarized some key things for you all. There are the usual suspects: total points available in the season, the average points, and the standard deviation of points, which can be thought to proxy the competitive balance.

Comparison of point schemes summary

I also compared the percentage of points that ended up with the team finishing in the 1st place, 8th place (the last playoff spot if we didn’t have the pity playoffs), 10th place which is the last playoff place, and the team finishing last.

Lastly, I calculated the points-per-game average difference between 8th place finish and being dead last. That is, how many points per game, on average, would the last team have needed more to have a same point score as the 8th ranking team.

Obviously, the standard deviations between 3 point games and 2 point games cannot be compared. But we can compare the schemes with equal number of total points available per game. And contrary to intuition, the schemes that don’t allow for ties, that is when games have shootouts if needed, would produce a more balanced season. But the difference is very small!

If only 2 points were given in a game, Kärpät who won the regular season, managed to obtain a larger share of the points than with 3 point games. And if we consider the differences whether we have or don’t have ties, the seasons with shootouts gave the teams towards the bottom of the standings (10th and 14th place) a bigger share of the points. So it would seem allowing for ties polarized the point spread. But the differences are, again, very small. If 3 points are given in a game, the 0.08 percentage point difference for last place team, for example, translates to exactly one point!

All in all, it doesn’t really matter which points scheme we use. Which is not to say I don’t have a favorite one. Which one, you may ask? And on what grounds? Didn’t I just say it doesn’t matter?

My suggestion

Personally, I’d like to see a 2 point per game plan put in place. Like I explained above, I’m not a fan of the “nice try, good effort” point given out to the teams when they make the overtime, regardless of who wins. A win is a win. Equally unsurprisingly to anyone who’s paid any attention to anything I’ve ever said, I’d get rid of the shootout and bring back ties. If the teams can’t hash it out within the agreed upon time frame, they are by definition equally good! And thus deserve to split the proverbial pie, with one point each.

But, here’s the twist! I’d double the overtime.

So instead of 5 extra minutes, there’d be 10. (You can keep the four-on-four if you wish. I’m not a fan, but I have been told, repeatedly, that I can’t always get what I want. So here I am, compromising.) 10 minutes of overtime with sudden death goal, and after that it’s a tie.

It’s not really that big of a deal, after all, in terms of game time. In 2014-15 season in the Finnish league 59 games out of 420 went to shootout. Which really are the games we’re considering here. If those games had been played with additional 5 minutes of overtime, and assuming no goals were scored so that the full 5 minutes was indeed played, that would have added a total of 295 minutes of game time to the season.

A team plays a total of 3600 minutes per season, without any overtime. So even if the same team had played all those 59 extra overtime games (that now went to shootout)? With the normal overtime + shootout, their season total would have been 3895 minutes of game time, plus shootout. Added to that the extra 5 minutes would have been a mere 8% increase to their game time.

So there, that’s my suggestion: Two points per game, double (10 minutes) overtime, and if the game is still tied, both teams get a point. If two teams are tied in points at the end of the season, regular time wins are preferred.

Any thoughts?

p.s. I realized the font I was using gave anyone reading it a headache. I deeply apologize. I’m revamping the blog over the rest of the week. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.

Edited April 11th: Fixed a confusingly written sentence about the game time increase with 10 min overtime.

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2 thoughts on “… And the Points Don’t Matter

  1. Even if you change the points system, the whole structure of the league is fundamentally flawed. The regular season is pointless, and the closed league is killing the sport. 60 games of regular season and the winner isn’t even crowned a champion? That’s just insanity. Either cut the amount of games roughly in half, or give the title to the season winner without play offs, make the season count for something, make every game “a big game”, no more “saving it for the play offs”, because every game becomes a play off, if you intend to win the title. Works for football around the world, would work wonders for hockey. Plus introduce straight relegation for the bottom two of the league without relegation play offs and instant promotion to the top two teams in Mestis. There, I saved hockey as a sport.

  2. Hi, and thanks for stopping by!
    I very much agree with you about the way playoffs rearrange the teams. Of course, saying that, someone is going to comment how the teams still left in play in Finland are the top 4 teams in regular season, but that is not always the case. More so, like I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the current way points are assigned gave us a regular season standings where teams with lower winning percentage were placed higher, simply because they lost “right”, that is, on overtime. I’m glad you mentioned European football, they seem to have a good thing going with “just” the regular season.

    So while I do understand the reasoning behind the playoffs (they’re fun and entertaining and fans love them, especially in Finland where cheering for the underdog is practically in our DNA), at the very least we should make them more fair. And by fair I mean they should reward teams more for a good regular season. The home advantage right now is a joke. At least in the NHL you get to start home the first two games. Psychologically, being 2 wins behind in a 4-win series when you get your first home game is much bigger deal than just one game behind.

    I don’t necessarily share your thoughts about relegation. Again, works in football, but it is complicated. Closed series seems to work in North American leagues. And there is the question of league experience quality, financial responsibility, and such things. I’m not too familiar with these issues, but I’d guess the difference in terms of financial, managerial, logistical and venue issues between the highest and second highest level of the sport is smaller in football than in hockey. That is, the level football teams are in the second highest league level is closer to the highest league level teams in those things, than it is in hockey. But like I said, I’m not familiar with these things, so I’m really just making a somewhat-educated guess.

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