The NHL’s ‘loser point’ has been a losing idea from the start
When you have a pet peeve, you can find your soapbox to rail against it almost anywhere. So, thank you, Ice Cube, for the entrée here to go off on the NHL and the continued use of its ridiculous loser point.
For the record, Mr. Cube (a.k.a. O’Shea Jackson Sr.) wasn’t talking hockey last week. The father of gangsta rap instead made his way to the sports pages because of his own particular craziness, his creation of a 3-on-3 league full of NBA long-forgottens such as Allen Iverson. Let’s assume with Iverson committed as a player/coach practice will be, at best, optional.
Sometimes, nice thoughts are just bad ideas. For Ice Cube, the BIG3 over-30 league is one of those times and one of those thoughts. For the NHL, it’s that inane loser point.
Ice Cube thinks the public yearns to see old guys such as Iverson and Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin play senior men’s league pickup. To me, it sounds like an autograph show that’s lost its way and needs to go hide in an Atlantic City ballroom.
Ice Cube also thinks there’s a chance sponsors and network TV will support the BIG3. To which I say: XFL.
In 2001, with NBC a partner with the then-wildly popular WWE, and with mostly young and fit and eager athletes on the field, the XFL flamed out even without having to reach out to USFL savant Donald Trump for his make-football-great-again wisdom.
The Alt-NFL lasted all of one season, or about 4-6 weeks after it was officially proclaimed brain-dead. At least it was spared the USFL’s giant lawsuit and grand $1 settlement.
One can only imagine how a BIG3 league stocked with older, out-of-shape NBA pensioners and D-League bustouts and wannabeens will court sponsors and TV execs. How in the world did Vince McMahon not think of that one first?
Meanwhile, the NHL is a fine business, a tremendous sport, still evolving now a century after its naissance, and yet it can’t let go of its loser point, a modern-day version of games ending in a tie. For those still having trouble deciphering NHL standings — and a few of you e-mail me each season for help — it’s the ‘O’ that follows the ‘W’ and the ‘L’. Wins. Losses. Overtime losses (a.k.a. loser point).
The breakdown: 2 points for the W, zero points for the L, and 1 point for the O, which is the team that loses in overtime. The team that won in overtime banks 2 points, and if you’re fortunate enough to have access to an advanced set of NHL standings, separate columns will help you find how often teams won in regulation time and how often they won after the 60-minute mark (be it in the five-minute OT or via the Ice Cube-like 3-on-3 shootout).
If you successfully followed all that math, then congrats, you’ve just been admitted to MIT, class of 2021.
It would seem the mere fact that a casual sports fan often struggles to figure out the NHL standings would be cause enough for a change. Nonetheless, the loser point lives on . . . and on . . . and on.
The NHL doesn’t have to live with or abide by gimmicks. The loser point remains embedded as its BIG3, its XFL, its confusing, needless appendage.
But it’s actually worse than all that, and that’s my main peeve. Its existence routinely makes the game action worse, detracts from the entertainment factor, part of a much broader struggle in a sport where the E-factor has taken humongous hits in recent years with the near-eradication of fighting and the lack of goal scoring.
The problem is, coaches coach to the loser point, something not seen in any other sport. And for good reason. It’s awful. It’s worse even than watching old, out-of-shape NBA stars play H-O-R-S-E.
All hockey coaches do it, be they great, good, or bad. When games are close in the third period, which is to say most games, one coach, or sometimes both, will begin to play to the point. Which means one or both teams will stop trying to score, ratchet down on defense, and often the final 10, 12, even 15 minutes of a game become an exercise in non-scoring and fans fighting to stay awake.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is one of the best, most-respected bench bosses in the game. Prior to the Bruins playing his Blues last week, “Hitch” made clear how that loser point dictates his thinking late in the game.
With that loser point there as low-hanging fruit, he’s not leaving the arena with his shopping basket empty.
“I like when you are playing all out, all the way,” offered Hitchcock. “But I’ve got to tell you as a coach, if there’s five minutes left in the game, and it’s tied, I’m not necessarily thinking about winning it. I want at least a point. A lot of coaches think like that. We have to think like that. Because to get zero points in a tie game with 10 minutes left is devastating.”
One common remedy offered to prevent such third-period “failure to engage” would be to award 3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an OT win, 1 for an OT loss. Count me out, if only on the basis of muddling through the already confusing standings. But from a coaching basis, Hitchcock could live with it.
“If you can put more value in it, I am all for it,” he said. “But to me, right now when there’s 10 minutes left in a hockey game I want that 1 point, at least. I’ve got to have it. That’s how you get in the playoffs.”
Then there’s the obvious: one team wins, one team loses. It works wonders for most other sports. Everyone gets it. The NHL could admit the whole contrivance, scrap the point system outright, and rank teams — get this! — based on whether they win or lose.
Even the BIG3 will figure that out. The Original 30 (soon to be 31) should have figured it out long ago.