The Overtime/Shootout Loss - Time to Lose the Point and Win
The Good Old Days
Take a walk with me back to the days of clutching and grabbing, the days of actually being able to clear the crease and the horrid days of ties in hockey. Two teams played 60 minutes, fought hard, left their blood on the ice and end up tied. Overtime.
In this instance, teams had two choices. Play aggressively, try to win the game and pick up two points (and maybe lose and get zero points); or, play it safe, clog up the middle, hope for a mistake and skate off with at least a point for a tie. Any coach concerned about his dental and 401K plan opted for the latter and played for the point.
That was then, this is now
In 2005 Colin Campbell, NHL executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, and the newly formed Competition Committee - comprised of four players (Brendan Shanahan, Jarome Iginla, Rob Blake and Trevor Linden), four GMs (Bob Gainey - Montreal, Kevin Lowe - Edmonton, David Poile - Nashville and Don Waddell - Atlanta), and Owner, Ed Snider - Philadelphia, formulated and recommended a number of rule changes that were adopted by the league (some weren't).
One of those rule changes was the elimination of tied games from hockey and the implementation of a shootout that would follow a scoreless, five-minute overtime period. The new four-on-four overtime and shootout replaced the mindless slogging up and down the ice in order to NOT lose the game, brought a much more exciting brand of post-regulation play hockey, it eliminated the dreadful tie column from the standings and the play that engendered the tie and forced a clear-cut winner out of every contest.
All good, right?
No. With strokes of a pen from players, ownership and the league, the NHL made two profound changes - one in the points structure and one to the basic notion of two teams competing.
What's the point?
The league made a conscious decision to strive for parity amongst its teams, so that a larger number of teams had a better shot at being competitive and making the playoffs. More teams involved, more fans interested, more revenue generated. A business decision. Nothing wrong with that, in an of itself. However, the decision to change the point structure had some interesting and dramatic consequences.
While the NHL eliminated the tie at the end of overtime, they permitted the poisoned fruit of the tie to remain, in that both teams received a point JUST for making it past regulation play. So now, the winner will be decided in overtime or by shootout, but the tie still exists when the 3rd period horn sounds. What this means, is that a losing team, by overtime or by shootout, can still climb in the standings and actually overtake teams with fewer wins. This can, and has, drastically alter the playoff picture.
Case in point was the 2005-2006 Edmonton Oilers. The season was heading into its final weeks with a murky playoff picture in the Western Conference. Teams were scrambling for position and doing everything possible to make it into the postseason. It so happened that the Oilers had compiled the 4th most overtime losses in the league and 2nd most in the Conference with 13. The importance of those 13 points was not made clear until the final day when two teams were eliminated from the playoffs that had more wins than Edmonton. The Oilers ended the season with 41 wins and 13 overtime losses for 95 points. The Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings both finished the season with 42 wins, but missed the dance by virtue of fewer overtime losses. While I do not begrudge the Oilers in any way, they played within the rules of the league and played well enough to go to the finals that year, I wonder what might have happened if the Kings or Canucks might have made the playoffs instead? I am sure many fans in both cities looked at the Oilers and felt a little betrayed by the league because, in the end, it was not about winning - it was about amassing points. In other words, when is a win not a win?
When is a loss, not a loss?
Winning and losing. It is as much a part of sport as the ancient desire to compete and strive for an olive wreath around the forehead. In order for someone to win, there has to be a loser. Losing is the Yin to winning's Yang. They are inseparable. One cannot exist without the other.
The decision to permit both tied teams to gain a point at the end of regulation play, not only altered the point structure, but also altered the very notion of what it means to compete as a professional athlete and lose. As the ink dried on the rule changes, the NHL diverted from the path that every other major sport takes when regulation play ends. In baseball, football, basketball (ban), golf and about any other sport you can name, there are no points for losing. The only thing that a team gets is an increase in the number of losses in the loss column. There are no half-points, no "excuse me" parting gifts for not winning. A loss is a loss.
How strange it is that the NHL only truly counts a loss as a loss once the playoffs begin. A team can gain a spot in the playoffs by having a greater number of overtime/shootout losses; but once in, a losing team in a series hits the showers with nothing but the knowledge that they have not come far enough. No do-overs, no mulligans, no half a banner hanging in the rafters of their building. A team that loses a series goes home.
A loss is supposed to be bitter. It is supposed to make you look in the mirror and ask what you could have done better or differently and did you give it your all? Losing causes far more introspection than does winning. A winner that rarely loses does not experience the sweet sorrow of coming close but not achieving his goal. A loser who fails, then comes back to the pinnacle of the sport and succeeds, understands the value of his victory in a way that is unique. The NHL should return to honoring the age-old tradition of competition, of which losing is an integral part. The single point for losing in overtime or in a shootout should be relegated to the sin bin of bad ideas - along with the glowing puck (what in the hell was Fox thinking?)
No team should be rewarded for losing a hockey game. Not now...not ever.
Thanks for reading...
The story teller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice.
His job is to shed light,
and not to master.