- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

In a crowded meeting room in a New York City hotel on a sweltering July day in 2005, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the official end to the owners’ lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season. He was typically enthusiastic yet businesslike at the same time.

He then talked about some of the rule changes he said would draw fans back into arenas that had been dark for a season. Among them: There would never again be any tie games in the NHL.

There had been ties in hockey ever since the game was invented and it didn’t seem to be a serious setback. There was a rule to break ties with overtime but that was during World War II so trains could maintain schedules (It had become customary for them to wait at the station for the traveling team no matter now long overtime took).

Overtime was reinstated in the 1980s but with a deadline of five minutes. If no winner was decided in that span, the game was a tie and each team received one point.

But poll after poll in the United States showed fans didn’t like athletic events without a winner, so the NHL succumbed. Beginning last season, if the score remained tied after the five-minute overtime, there would be a shootout and that would continue until there was a winner.

Not a problem. Fans pay the freight. They want a winner, give them one.

But here’s the problem. The NHL is rewarding losing — the team that fails to win in either overtime or in a shootout receives a point in the standings. Had the same team lost in regulation, no point would be awarded. But because they fail down the line, it is rewarded.

That’s embarrassing. It makes no sense. It makes an absolute mockery out of the art of competition, where winning is rewarded and losing isn’t. Under that system, it’s conceivable that a team play the entire season, fail to win a single game and still total 82 points — more than eight teams had last season.

Some teams carry it even further. They refuse to acknowledge anything beyond wins and losses, as if losing some other way was a badge of honor to strive for but not admit to. They want you to believe that if you play an 82-game schedule, win 25 and lose 25 — that is, lose 25 in regulation, the other 32 games never happened. They played .500 hockey, they’ll tell you.

Wrong. They lost 57 games, not 25 and there should be no other way to look at it. If Bettman’s pronouncement is correct (and when is a Bettman pronouncement not correct?), a team wins or loses. There isn’t a third choice. To pretend games lost in overtime or in a shootout never happened is hiding from reality.

Around the Washington Capitals, it is often said the team finished 12 games under .500 last season at 29-41, its won-lost record. But the Caps played 82 games. What about the other 12? Had they been wins, the Caps would have added 12 points to the 70 they had and been closer to the playoffs. If Washington wasn’t in the playoffs, and it wasn’t, then those 12 games must have been … something other than wins. And Gary Bettman says if they weren’t wins, they were losses. That’s reality and to say it any other way is avoiding the painful truth.

Using the thought process that produced points for failure, winning a game in regulation should be worth three points, winning in overtime should be worth two, winning in a shootout should be worth one. Losing at any time should be what the reward has always been for losing — zero.

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