The term “point” is one that is used a lot in the game of hockey. While at first, it might seem confusing because there are so many different ways the word is used, we’ll make sure to make everything clear as day.
So, what is a point in hockey?
A point in hockey refers to one of three things: a position on the ice, where defensemen stand near the blue line in the offensive zone, a player scoring a goal or recording an assist, or what a team earns after a win or overtime loss, which affects the standings and seeding for the playoffs.
Now that you understand what a point refers to in hockey, let’s take a deeper look into the position and its significance, at who some of the all-time points leaders in the NHL are, how teams earn points and how they affect the standings.
What Is the Point in Hockey? (Position)
The point is a positional reference for defensemen when they are standing near the blue line in the offensive or attacking zone. While it’s usually defensemen who play the point it can sometimes be manned by forwards, especially on the power play.
Also, when a defenseman is playing his position in the neutral zone or defending zone, he is not playing the point. The term is reserved for whoever is just inside the blue line of the offensive zone.
The purpose of the point is to keep the puck in the offensive zone when the defending team tries to clear it. This can be done by simply blocking and then shooting the puck back into any corner of the offensive zone.
However, the point can also be used as part of the offensive strategy. Forwards will sometimes pass the puck out to the point in the hopes that the point will have a clear shot at the net.
While scoring from the point is difficult, it does happen. Shooting the puck from the point can also lead to deflections and rebounds.
On the power play, the point is like the quarterback and runs the play against the other team.
It’s common for the puck to be passed back and forth between the players on the sideboards and the point as they try to find an opening for a shot or a pass.
Because the point runs the power play when a team has a man advantage they will sometimes move a forward into the position.
Typically, players with powerful slap shots and good backward skating skills are good candidates to play the point, whether on the power play or not.
How to Earn Points in Hockey
In hockey, there are three ways for an individual to score a point. The first is by scoring a goal. The second way to earn a point is to be the person who passed the puck to the person who scored the goal.
This is called an assist and is sometimes also known as a first assist. Hockey also credits a point to the person who passed the puck to the person who passed the puck to the person who scored the goal.
That might sound confusing, but it is known as the second assist. Some sports, like basketball only credit assists if you pass to the person who scores, but because hockey is such a fast game and goals usually result from multiple passes, up to two players are given assists when a goal is scored.
These assists hold the same amount of weight statistically.
Hockey All Time Points Leaders
The second way the term point is used in hockey is to refer to when an individual records a goal or an assist. Each goal or assist a player records is worth one point for them.
The more points a player scores, the better they are considered to be. Because forwards are tasked with scoring, they typically score more points than defensemen, but many defensemen record points regularly—especially with assists.
It is even possible, though extremely rare, for a goalie to record a point. If a goalie passes the puck to a player who either scores or who passes the puck to another player who scores, the goalie earns an assist.
There have also been several instances of goalies scoring goals when the opposing team has pulled their goalie at the end of a game.
The goalie with the most points in his career is American John Barrasso who recorded 48 assists in just under 800 games. The goalie with the most goals is Canadian Martin Brodeur who tallied two in the regular season and one in the playoffs.
As for defensemen, the top three point-scorers are all Canadians (no surprise there). Number one on the list is Ray Bourque who scored 410 goals and recorded 1,169 assists in his more than 1,600 games in the NHL.
This averages out to nearly one point every game—a nearly unheard of rate for a defenseman.
Paul Coffey scored fewer points (1,531) than Bourque but did so in 200 fewer games giving him an average of more than one point per game.
The defenseman with the third-most points in NHL history is Al Maclnnis who tallied 1,274 points in 1,416 games.
Phil Housley leads the way for American defenseman in points, tallying 1,232 of them in 1,495 games—good for the fourth-most ever for a defenseman.
While those numbers are impressive for defensemen, they are far less than those of the top-scoring forwards of all-time—especially Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, who has far more points than any player ever. And it isn’t even close.
Wayne Gretzky played in 1,487 games and scored 2,857 points—894 goals and an astounding 1,963 assists. That’s right, Gretzky has more assists than any other player has points.
What made Gretzky so good was not only his natural goal-scoring ability—he has almost 100 more goals than Gordie Howe who has the next highest goal total—but his ability to pass the puck.
Gretzky was like a master chess player on the ice and could see several plays ahead. There is simply no other player who has dominated his sport more than Gretzky dominated hockey in the ’80s and early ’90s.
The second highest point scorer of all time is not a Canadian or an American, it is Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic, who, over his 1,733 games, recorded 1,921 points.
After Jagr, the list of top scorers is full of Canadians with a few Fins like Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri rounding out the top 20. Brett Hull and Mike Modano are the highest American forwards on the all-time scoring list at 21 and 22 respectively.
What Is the Point System in Hockey?
As we noted earlier, a point can also refer to what a team earns as a unit after a game. In this case, points have to do with a team’s ranking in the standings which are used to determine which teams make it to the playoffs.
In the NHL, there are two ways a team can earn points. The first is by winning a game in regulation, overtime, or during a shootout. If that happens the team is awarded two points.
However, if the game goes to overtime both teams are guaranteed to earn at least one point. The same is true for a shootout.
While the winning team earns two points for an overtime or shootout win, the team that loses in overtime or a shootout still earns one point. Hockey is unique in that the losing team can still earn a point.
Some, however, feel this point system is flawed and doesn’t provide enough incentive for teams to try and win.
One suggested change is to award three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win, one point for a shootout win, and zero points for any loss.
Proponents of this plan argue that it would make for more exciting finishes and would cause games to end sooner.
How Do Hockey Standings Work?
As noted above, currently in the NHL a team earns two points for any win (whether in regulation, overtime, or a shootout) and a team earns one point if they lose in overtime or a shootout.
The running total of a team’s points are kept to determine the team’s rankings and eventual seeding in the playoffs should they be one of the top eight teams in their conference.
This point system is somewhat unique in professional sports. Basketball, baseball, and football do not have a point system and instead simply record wins and losses (though the NFL does also have ties).
Instead of awarding points, in those sports wins and losses are tallied and the teams with the most wins are seeded higher in the playoffs.
There are some pros and cons to hockey’s system which are worth taking a closer look at. For one, with the current point system, more teams are competitive throughout the season which can make for an exciting end of the season as more teams are vying for the coveted top eight seeds.
And, with the grueling 82 game season, losing a game isn’t as devastating if it happens in overtime or a shootout as your team still earns a point.
On the other hand, as we have already mentioned, with the possibility of still earning at least one point if they make it to overtime, some critics think the NHL doesn’t incentivize winning enough and teams sometimes coast through the regular season and don’t try as hard to win at the end of the game.
Another con is that teams that have no business being near the top eight can sometimes squeak in just by regularly making it to overtime.
If it was based on wins and losses versus a point system, some argue better, more urgent hockey would be the result. With an 82 game regular season schedule, 100 points is a very good total and something that will put a team near the top of the standings.
In the 2018-2019 season, for example, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a very good year, earning 128 points. It is worth noting that the record for most points earned by a team in one year is 132 by the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens.
Though it depends on the division and conference, it’s possible for a team to make the playoffs by only earning 80-90 points.