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Dudley had role in rule that helps Tampa Bay

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

What constitutes a loss in the NHL?

It is an interesting and ongoing question thanks, in great part, to the efforts of former Lightning general manager Rick Dudley.

It was the summer of 2000 and the NHL had just finished its first season with "regulation ties," which were games tied in regulation but lost in overtime. They had their own category in the standings, were worth a point and counted in the loss column.

Dudley, who had just finished his first season with Tampa Bay, did not think games in which points were awarded should be considered losses, so he began lobbying his fellow general managers, commissioner Gary Bettman and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell for a change.

The result, after what Dudley called "many meetings," was "overtime losses." Instituted last season, they replaced regulation ties in the standings, are worth a point but are not counted in the loss column.

And that is where our story really begins.

"It wasn't a huge deal," Dudley said last week.

Dudley's efforts not only changed the way standings are read but, intentionally or not, changed NHL history and the Lightning's place in it.

If the old rules applied -- with regulation ties counting in the loss column -- the Lightning would be the only NHL team to drop at least 50 games in four consecutive seasons from 1997-2001.

When the new rules went into effect, that streak retroactively ended at two, and that is historically significant.

Under the old rules, the Lightning lost 54 games in 1999-2000 (47 in regulation and seven in overtime), tying the 1982-85 Penguins as the only teams to lose at least 50 in three consecutive seasons.

When the new rules went into effect in 2000-01, the NHL directed teams to rejigger the previous season's records to conform. That lowered Tampa Bay's official losses to 47.

Tampa Bay was outscored 52 times last season, but with five overtime losses, official losses were 47.

Dudley, who last month resigned as general manager, said the Lightning's streak did not motivate him to get the rules changed.

"For me, it was more aesthetic than anything," he said. "To me, hockey is a game of points. You don't make the playoffs on wins. It's points. If you make 82 points in 82 games, you are .500 in my book, and I wanted it reflected that way."

The 1999-2000 Oilers are a perfect example, he said. Edmonton made the playoffs with 88 points and was second in the Northwest Division despite a losing record. But when overtime losses replaced regulation ties, a 32-34-16-8 mark was revised to 32-26-16-8.

"In today's sports society, it's tough enough to win fans over," he said. "You don't want to put a negative spin on something that's not negative."

On the other hand, when goaltending and coaching records are figured, games lost in overtime are recorded only in the loss column. Neither Bettman nor Campbell was available for comment.

Defenseman Jassen Cullimore, in his fifth Lightning season, said he probably would not have worried about the 50-loss distinction.

"The only reason you care is because no one wants to lose," he said. "But it doesn't really matter because within that time we've been improving every year and going forward."

This will be the fourth consecutive season the Lightning has improved in points. If it continues on its 72-point pace, it will earn its highest total since it had 74 in 1996-97.

One victory passes last season's 24, and 50 losses aren't even on the radar.

"The most important thing for the organization is it's not a consideration anymore, and we're confident it won't be for a long time, because of the improvement on the ice," team spokesman Bill Wickett said. "The debate shouldn't be important at all. You make the playoffs on points, not on wins, losses or ties."

Still, "If the Tampa Bay Lightning gets to .500, it will be a monumental day for the fans," Dudley said. "When a team will end up being below .500, you want it to be as little below .500 as possible."

Dudley made that easier ... for all teams.

A DIFFERENT VIEW: One day after being traded from the Senators to the Lightning, and after a sleepless night talking with girlfriend Karine LaBelle, Andre Roy said being with Tampa Bay might not be so bad.

"I was a little bit upset," he said Saturday at the Ice Palace after a 6:30 a.m. flight from Ottawa. "But I had the night to realize this happened and this is a new day. I'm pretty pumped. I'm getting a chance to play for a good team going in the right direction. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Roy, one of the league's tougher customers, said he was upset with the Senators for dealing him after praising his development as a player and talking about becoming a grittier team.

Lightning coach John Tortorella said Roy, who has 148 penalty minutes in 56 games, will be expected to do more than fight, but he expects him to be physical.

"We want to be a tougher team to play against," Tortorella said. "But it's not a situation where guys are brought in and pigeonholed."

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