I have a question or three about tie-breakers

We coming down to the wire, and it's at least possible that we'll see a three- or even four-way tie in the West. For that reason, I have been working on an excel chart to track the different possible outcomes of the myriad combinations of three and four way ties among the eight teams currently fighting it out in the West. In the middle of this, I realized there is an ambiguity in the wording of the tie-breaking rules. Actually, there are two.

NHL tiebreaking procedures - NHL - ESPN


In the event teams are tied in the standings, the following tiebreakers are applied to determine which team receives the higher seeding.

1. The fewer number of games played (i.e., superior points percentage).

2. The greater number of games won (not including games won in a shootout).

3. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. If two clubs are tied, and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any "odd" games, shall be used to determine the standing.

4. Goal differential.

Here are my questions:

"Odd games"

I assume this phrase, as used above, refers to the sentence which describes how to handle a disparity in the number of home games two tied teams have played. (though it could also mean games that are just strange.) It's a somewhat different situation, though, when you're dealing with more than two teams.

  • Let's say Detroit, Chicago and Edmonton finish the season in a three-way tie. Detroit and Chicago are in the same division, so they play each other six times. But Edmonton only plays the other two four times each. So Edmonton only has eight games to represent it in the tie-breaker, whereas Chicago and Detroit have 10.
  • However, the remedy that is described for the two-way tie -- " points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included" -- doesn't translate to three-way (or four-way) ties, because the first game played in the cities that had the extra games might not have been between two teams with extra games played. In the example above, what if the first game Detroit played at home was against Edmonton. Not counting this game reduces Detroit's total to 9, and Edmonton's to 7, and leaves Chicago's at 10. So that's obviously not going to work.
  • You have to interpret the rule to mean: "points earned in the first home game played by each of the tied teams in the same division are not counted."
  • This gets even more confusing if you have a four-way tie with three division rivals and one outsider. For example: Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Edmonton. The first three teams play each other six times, and Edmonton plays the others only four. Edmonton has twelve games to count. The others have sixteen. So...to apply (my understanding of) the rule to this situation, you would not count Chicago's first home game against Detroit and St. Louis, Detroit's first home game against Chicago and St. Louis, and St. Louis's first home game against Chicago and Detroit. Six games would be eliminated, four for each of the division rivals, and everyone would have only 12 games counted.
  • And here's another one: what if it's a four-way tie among four teams, two from each of two divisions. For example, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Do you (1) not eliminate any games because each team has played one team 6 times and the others 4 times (for a total of 14 games) even though they play different teams different amounts, or (2), do you eliminate the first home games of the division rivals (i.e. Chicago @ Detroit, Detroit @ Chicago, Dallas @ Los Angeles, Los Angeles @ Dallas), so that each team plays the other three teams the same number of games (4x3=12)? When it's a two-way tie, the objective (and the emphasis in the wording of the rule) is on making sure the two tied teams have the same number of home games against each other. The only way to extend that balance to a three or four-way tie is to level it off so you look at the same number of games of each of the tied teams against each of the others.
  • Even though that makes sense to me, I bet the actual, official interpretation is that if the tied teams have played the same number of games in total, they won't eliminate games just because teams haven't played each team equally.

"the higher % of available points earned...shall...determine the standing"

  • Let's go straight to an example: Chicago, Nashville, Anaheim and Minnesota end the season in a four-way tie. They are tied also in number of wins (not counting SO wins), so we proceed to the "points" tie-breaker. In points earned among those teams, let's say (I'm making these numbers up) Chicago has 20, Nashville and Anaheim have 19 and Minnesota has 18.
  • Clearly, Chicago wins this tiebreaker. And clearly, Minnesota loses. And I'm pretty sure what I'm supposed to do with Anaheim and Nashville, who are still tied:
  • Nashville and Anaheim proceed to goal-differential, right? That's kind of obvious. And let's say goal-differential favors Nashville. So the tie-breaker sets the order as Chicago, Nashville, Anaheim, Minnesota.
  • (What if Nashville and Anaheim are tied in goal-differential? We're out of tie-breakers. I'm pretty sure this means a one-off winner-take-all playoff game.)
  • However, I don't see why you couldn't interpret the guidelines to say that (instead of proceeding to goal-differential with only Nashville and Anaheim) you now follow the tie-breaker rules from the beginning with this new pair of newly-tied teams.
  • Because the issue of who has more wins has been resolved (the two teams are tied). But we haven't yet looked at head-to-head (the second tie-breaker) for these two teams. We only looked at head-to-head-to-head-to-head of the four tied teams. In the above example, it's entirely possible that Nashville might have swept Anaheim head-to-head, but Anaheim could prevail by virtue of having a better goal-differential over the course of 82 games.
  • I'm pretty sure (like 99.99% sure) that I'm supposed to just "get" that the any teams that are still tied after the "points earned" tie-breaker simply move on to the next tie-breaker. But the league assigned these values to these different tie-breakers in this order for a reason, and it seems bizarre to settle a tie between two teams using goal differential when their head-to-head matchup yields a clear winner.