Jim Kelley
Thursday January 24th, 2008

When you don't win or lose in regulation time in the National Hockey League, do you suffer a loss, a non-loss, an unacknowledged tie or is it just out there somewhere?

That's what fans and media in Buffalo are asking after the Sabres went through some kind of recent 10-game negative streak.

Because the Sabres didn't win or tie, local media took to calling the skid a 10-game losing streak and compared it to club records in that regard, but the Sabres went to the NHL for a ruling and it was determined that the streak in which the Sabres did not win a game but did pick up five points -- the result of losing five shootouts -- was not a losing streak but a winless streak.

"It's not a losing streak," said NHL chief statistician Benny Ercolani. "It's a winless streak because some of those games did not go in the loss column. Once they go into overtime, they get a point and [the game] doesn't go into the loss column. It's nothing new."

Indeed it isn't. The NHL revamped its standings when it added the shootout coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. Since the start of 2005-06, any defeat in overtime or in the shootout goes into a third category in the standings called OT. The Sabres have used the recent ruling to tout the fact that they were 0-5-5 in their recent 10-game winless streak, which is different than a 10-game losing streak because they would have to lose 10 in a row in regulation to be on such a slide.

So it's win, loss or OT, but the problem has been that most people find the NHL standings harder to decipher than locating a game on the Versus network.

Some newspapers print wins, losses and OT. Some print OT wins when a team gets the full two points. Some print OT losses where the team didn't get the win, and since there are no longer ties, they consider them games in which a point was rewarded simply for not winning. It's exceptionally confusing to the average fan and even the sophisticated ones because the NHL no longer recognizes unbeaten streaks (the old run of wins and ties but no losses). Teams do have winning streaks, losing streaks and unbeaten streaks (which appear to be the same as undefeated streaks except that winning in OT or a shootout is worth two points instead of the old one for a tie).

Confused? Most people are.

Did you expect anything less from the league that in 1999 gave you a Stanley Cup champion -- against Buffalo no less -- via a goal scored off a play that was illegal in the rule book, yet legal in a clarification memo put out before the start of the playoffs but not released to the general public?

Now, when you watch a team walk off the ice after the other has won in OT or a shootout, the players usually have their heads down, their coach is dismayed and their goalie is kicking at snow piles en route to the bench. In other words, if the other team scores more goals than you do and walks off with two points, well, if it looks like a loss, smells like a loss, and the players in the locker room will talk like it was a loss. But to the NHL and Sabres management, that's a non-win.To everyone else, you got beat. Why else do you think everyone calls it the "loser" point?

The irony of all of this is that if you ran the standings with two points for a win and nothing for a loss (meaning teams lose in regulation or the shootout and get nothing for their efforts, the standings wouldn't change very much. The only thing that would be noticeably different would be the fact that the Sabres would have established a franchise record for consecutive losses. If that were Buffalo's only problem, the team would be a happy bunch of non-winners indeed.

The Sabres stopped their 10-game whatever streak with a stunning 10-2 triumph in regulation time vs. the visiting Atlanta Thrashers in HSBC Arena, then went north to Toronto to lose to the Leafs. Buffalo fell again two nights later in Phoenix. The Sabres went to Dallas for their last game before the All-Star break and were skidding badly. The team that won the 2006-07 President's Trophy with the most points in the regular season is plummeting toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference and the overall standings. As of Thursday morning Buffalo had fewer points than the Leafs, the team that beat them on Saturday night and then fired their general manger, John Ferguson, Jr., three days later.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not, the standings on the NHL website Thursday stated the Sabres were ahead of the Leafs in the Northeast Division, Eastern Conference and overall despite the fact that while listed in 27th position, Buffalo is said to have 46 points on 20 wins, 21 losses and 6 OTs while the Leafs, in 28th, have 48 points on 20 wins, 22 losses and 8 OTs.

Go figure.

All-Star salvage

The Hockey News this week published a list of 56 ways to make the upcoming All-Star Game better. To it one might add that it would be a good thing indeed to have the players voted to starting positions at least show up.

New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, a fan favorite and perennial All-Star, was the latest to pull out. Named the starter by fans, the current Vezina Trophy king cited family reasons. He joins Western fan favorite and starter Roberto Luongo, who has opted out to be with his wife, who is expecting the couple's first child ... in April.

Look, family concerns are understandable (though April does seem a long way from January), but these are the respective starters in goal for the Eastern and Western Conference teams. At least Pavel Bure had the decency to show up for two periods before leaving the bench to catch a flight home from an All Star shebang out west a few years back.

The NHL has made it too easy to skip the All-Star Game. Even Devils coach Brent Sutter, who was to be an assistant on the Eastern squad, bailed out this year. First off, it's not much of a game. Secondly, some players have to travel a great distance just to get there, and then it's a three-day marathon of appearances and mini-competitions while their teammates get as many as five days off.

Many players schedule mini-vacations during the All-Star break and escape to the islands or some Disney property with their families while their "star" mates, the guys who could actually use a little R&R (both Brodeur and Luongo are likely to play 70 or more games this season) have to fly around North America, dress and play a single period in which they likely will face more shots than in any two regular season games combined and then fly somewhere to rejoin their team all while their families pine for Mickey and Minnie Mouse or at least a trip to the family time share in the Caribbean.

My advice: Can the game. Send everyone off for a much needed break. But the reality is that advertisers must be feted and fans in the city in which the game is played truly cherish the event, so the least that can be done is to make it worth watching.

Fill the penalty box with cash and tell both sides it's a winner-take-all with the MVP of each side getting a bonus grab. No matter how much an athlete makes in any sport, the prospect of diving into a pile of cash in excess of a million bucks has a tendency to entice. For that kind of long green, even Tiger Woods would be tempted to reshape his sticks. The goalies would love it if the guys played hard in front of them and, who knows, a period of shutout hockey might be enough to get the biggest share of the pie.

All-Star question

If the ice at the outdoor game in Buffalo on New Year's Day was so horrific, isn't it odd that Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning (but not a loss for Buffalo) goal in the shootout, but injured himself on the indoor sheet in his home base of Pittsburgh?

The NHL and NBC built the Winter Classic around Crosby even though the Penguins were the visiting team. The league was doing the same for the All-Star Game when Crosby got hurt and had to pull out.

That's the problem with concentrating on one star. More than a few players were having better overall seasons then Crosby when he went down, but you can bet NBC isn't salivating over the prospect of a Jarome Iginla (Calgary), Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay), Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta), Alex Ovechkin (Washington) or Chris Osgood (Detroit) being the focal point of Sunday's broadcast.

Too bad. Iginla might just be the best player in the game this season and nobody outside of Calgary seems to be paying attention. You could make a similar case for a decent number of NHLers, but Crosby is the fresh face and has been anointed by none other than Wayne Gretzky, so the drum-beating goes on.

Deal or no deal?

If the NHL is such a hot property, why is it so difficult to close the deal on the sale of a team in the post-lockout era, the era when all things are supposed to be good again on the business side of the NHL ledger?

The Nashville Predators had to cobble together a group of owners in order to settle with the departing Craig Leipold, who had a difficult time getting out of town after he posted the For Sale sign on one of the league's most entertaining but poorly attended franchises.

Now, billionaire Daryl Katz has imposed a deadline of January 31 for his bid to buy the Edmonton Oilers for $188 million. There's supposed to be a bidding war for this property between Katz of Rexall Pharmacy cash and another group, but if Katz is going to throw an additional $100 million toward a new downtown arena, what's the problem?

The NHL might not be anything in the U.S., especially on television, but because of the rise in oil prices, and the value of the Canadian dollar, Edmonton is booming. With a new arena on the drawing board, a team, even a team in one of the smallest of NHL markets, is a good buy in Canada. That's not exactly the case in Nashville, where the Predators still struggle to reach the minimum attendance numbers necessary to keep the lease intact.

Resurrection in Ottawa

Trashed by seemingly everyone in Ottawa and across the NHL for his questionable antics on and off the ice just a few weeks ago, goalie Ray Emery is making a comeback with the Senators.

This week, coach John Paddock said playing time between Emery and Martin Gerber would be determined by whoever is winning. That's a far cry from when Gerber was the acknowledged No.1 and Emery appeared on the verge of being run out of town.

Emery has gotten his life and game back on track, but Gerber has had a hand in it as well. He's stumbled after his 12-1 start, opening the door for Emery who, for the record, goaled the team to the Stanley Cup Final last spring largely by himself because Gerber was playing like a Tampa Bay castoff.

What it all amounts to is that the job is there for the goalie who wants it most. In the past, Gerber has shown that he didn't. If that's the case this time around, Emery, thought to be mentally tougher than Gerber, could well be No. 1 again.

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