Only in the National Hockey League is a win not always a win

Empty Net

The Pittsburgh Penguins recently completed a perfect month of March with a record of 15 wins with no losses.  The 15 consecutive wins came two short of the NHL record of 17 wins registered by the Penguins in 1993.

A hockey purist was quick to point out that the '93 streak was 17 regulation and overtime wins in a row since there were no shootouts in 1993. The 2013 streak included a shootout win, which would not have counted as a win in 1993.

The rules of all sports change from generation to generation.  Anytime you make a comparison of something that happened years ago to something that happened recently the argument will always be how the comparisons are invalid.

While the record should still count, it does bring up an oddity of the National Hockey League rules regarding wins and losses. Only in hockey is a win not always a win, and a loss can actually gain ground for a team in the standings.

Under the current system the standings are determined by points, not just wins and losses, with two points awarded for a win, and one point awarded for an overtime loss.

The rules that have allowed ties, and now overtime losses, have changed three times since 1999.



The concept of the overtime loss came into the league during the 1999-2000 season. For five seasons, NHL records were split into four categories: wins, losses, ties, and overtime losses. Ties were still possible, but points were awarded for overtime losses.

The introduction of the shootout was following the 2004-05 lockout. After a five minute overtime period if the score is still tied the teams go to a shootout to determine the winner. The goal was to eliminate ties.

In 2010 the NHL approved a change in its bylaw that skewed the numbers even more in that a win in the overtime period actually has more value than a win in a shootout.  Under the 2010 revised bylaw, shootout wins will not be included in the tiebreaker for two teams which finish with the same amount of points. That tiebreaker is limited to regulation and overtime victories. 

Even though the official standings show three categories, the change in 2010 actually created six categories of outcomes that could determine the final standings of a hockey club: regulation wins, regulation losses, overtime wins, overtime losses, shootout wins and shootout losses..

The NHL went from the complexity of having three categories of game outcomes, to four, and now having six categories

Why not just wins and losses? No more, no less. 


Some folks don't like the idea of a shootout. But that's a whole different argument.  The shootout was put in place to decide the outcome of the game and to eliminate ties.  So if the goal was to eliminate ties, then a win is a win. Shouldn't it be?