It’s not often in sports that there is a need for something as trivial as a change in how standings are listed. Yet, that is the exact situation that the NHL faces. Ever since the league changed its schedule format a few years back so that every team played in every building every year, scheduling has become increasingly difficult and teams play out their seasons far differently from one another. The result, at any given point in the season, is a wide gap in games played between teams across the league – one that has stretched as high as 8 games between the teams with the most and fewest games played.
With a points-based standings system, a games played gap greatly misrepresents the success of teams relative to one another. While anyone can look and see that a 25-5-5 team is superior to a 22-10-11, the problem is that the standings say otherwise – both teams have 55 points – and the average layperson isn’t going to calculate a metric to differentiate the two when just casually looking at the standings. In the end, all teams play 82 games, but for the ease of fans and even some media members to better analyze how teams are performing in-season, and additional metric is needed.
That metric is points percentage, which of course is the amount of points a team has accrued (two-point wins and one-point OT/shoot-out losses) out of how many possible points they could have earned with a win in each game. Similar to winning percentage, the main standings metric for the MLB and traditionally listed on NFL and NBA standings as well, points percentage is an easy way to show how teams are doing relative to a .500 mark and, more importantly, relative to each other. The only problem is that, while very easy to calculate and very useful, no one in hockey is yet using this stat in their standard standings. NHL.com should, above everyone else, at least use points percentage in their standings, especially since it is a metric they have on hand, but they don’t. Instead, users can go to team stats, where it is a searchable statistic, and refine their search by conference and division to see relevant standings. Helpful, right? ESPN, TSN, Fox Sports, and CBS Sports are among the other major sports information outlets who have yet to adopt points percentage for their NHL standings, continuing to leave fans without complete information.
The one site hockey fans should use: the old stand-by Hockey Reference. The reliable stats site lists points percentage right alongside points in its 2017-18 standings, allowing for an easy look at the true performances of teams so far this season. Do yourself a favor, and take a quick look. Points percentage is topical right now, as a perfect case study is playing out in the Atlantic Division. Yes, the season is only a quarter of the way in, but the margin in games played is already skewing the view of the league’s weakest division:
Fans of the struggling Montreal Canadiens are ecstatic to be back in a playoff spot with 27 points in 27 games and fans of the Detroit Red Wings are proud of their club for sticking around with 25 points in 26 games, good enough for fifth place in the division. What about the fourth-place Boston Bruins? Well, the Bruins have 26 points… but in 23 games. Due to the gap in games played between the B’s and the Habs and Wings, it looks like Boston is just another team in the mix. Yet, in terms of points percentage they are a ways ahead. The Bruins are currently at .565, right up there with the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals within the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens are at .500, no better than the Atlantic’s sixth-place squad, the Ottawa Senators, and well outside playoff contention at this point. The Red Wings are at just .481, a success rate much closer to the Florida Panthers than the Bruins.
The whole outlook of the Atlantic is skewed due to the games played gap and points percentage is a clear way to show accurate standings. It is also a straightforward metric to calculate and display. So why haven’t more platforms adopted it? It’s time for the NHL and other sports media outlets to help out hockey’s spectators and format their standings to actually show how the season is going.