The early 80’s saw the birth of a phenomenon in hockey statistics. The “Three numbers in Hockey Standings” brought to you by Elliott and Maher is taking the hockey world by storm. Let me explain what I am talking about. When the standings are printed every day they only show, for each team, how many games won, lost and tied.
This is very misleading because so much more goes into the standings than just the 3 numbers. First of all teams get 2 points for a win, 1 point for an overtime loss and 0 points for a regulation time loss. The following are possible standings after an NHL regular season has ended.
how do nhl standings work
Tampa Bay: 43 wins, 23 losses and 12 ties for 100 points in 82 games.
New Jersey: 40 wins, 25 losses and 13 ties for 93 points in 82 games.
The Devils had more wins than the Lightning so they were awarded 1st place and the right to play in the playoffs. The Lightning finished 2nd and did not make the playoffs.
The three numbers that hockey standings are based on
Tampa Bay: (43-23-12) 82 Games = 43 WINS + 23 LOSSES + 12 TIES = 100 points
New Jersey: (40-25-13) 82 Games = 40 WINS + 25 LOSSES + 13 TIES = 93 Points
Now let’s look at the standings that if taken as they are, would send the wrong team to the playoffs.
How these numbers are interpreted to determine a team’s rank
Division winners are not guaranteed a top 3 finish in the regular season standings; only the division champion has that right. The Tampa Bay Lightning finish first in their division and second overall, (2nd/3rd). This means another team from the division could be ranked higher than them in the regular season standings.
The most points a team can collect is 116 (wins-overall losses). The least possible points won in an 82 game NHL season is 58 (wins-overall ties). This would result if a team was able to go undefeated in regulation time, and win all of its games in the shootout.
Examples of how teams can move up or down in the standings based on their performance in the regular season
Tampa Bay finishes in 1st place in the Eastern Conference, New Jersey finished in 8th place. Tampa Bay has to play all of their games in the playoffs against teams with a better ranking than them. This means they have to win 4 series before they can win the Stanley Cup.
New Jersey was ranked in 8th place, they will play all of their games in the playoffs against teams with a worse ranking than them. This means they may have to win 6 series before winning the Stanley Cup.
NY Rangers finished 1st overall but were ranked 13th in the Eastern Conference so they would start their playoff run by facing a team other games that finished in 14th place or lower.
New Jersey finished 1st overall but were ranked 2nd in the Eastern Conference so they would start their playoff run by facing a team other games that finished in 3rd place or lower.
The most important number is the three that stands for wins, losses and ties. The next two numbers indicate where a team ranked in their division or conference and whether they were ranked higher than another team with the same number of points at the end of the regular season. But these rankings can be distorted based on how teams fare against teams outside their division or conference. This is the reason that a team that finishes in 1st place in their division or conference can be ranked lower than a team with the same number of points at the end of the regular season but finished out of first place.