The latest round of NHL GM meetings featured more discussion on how to alter overtime, with one specific goal: limiting the number of games that go to shootouts. That’s admirable, as the appeal of what was initially imagined as a last-ditch solution to ending deadlocked games definitely has dimmed since it was first implemented in 2005-06.
Indeed, when some 14 percent of games played this season end in a shootout, it’s worth examining and addressing the factors that have led the league to this point. But this idea that shootouts need to be eliminated altogether? Sorry, not buying it. And that’s because I’m now and forever a sworn enemy of ties.
Ties stink. They stink far and they stink wide, like rotten fish in a ventilation system. They're an affront to the very nature of professional sports. They essentially take all the money fans spend on tickets and flush it down the commode without any real emotional payoff.
Of course, some will argue there’s nothing inherently wrong with a tie and that athletes have no issue with it. Both of those things are true – but only to a degree. Ties are fine on amateur rinks, in games between teams that have no vested financial stake in the outcome. They have no place in a multi-billion-dollar entity like the NHL.
Imagine a book whose protagonist is in the same dramatic position at the end of the final chapter as they were when you began reading the first pages. Odds are you wouldn’t buy a sequel to that book. You want a reading experience that provides something – excitement, fear, disgust, despair – and if you don’t get it, you don’t make note of the author’s name to see what else they’ve produced.
The same principle holds true for tied games in sports. And let’s say the aforementioned 14 percent number applied to every team in the NHL. That would mean nearly 12 games out of an 82 game season – six out of 41 home games – would end with no decisive result. That’s far more unacceptable than any shootout ever was.
Again, it must be stressed that the NHL is not a business that sells the essence of pure competition. Its games aren’t played for tradition’s sake, nor for the enjoyment of the players. The league is an entertainment conglomerate. It is competing for disposable income with the TV and film industries, the video game world, and other sports-related operations. Its mission is to leave consumers walking away from a game with one of the following two thoughts:
1. Wow, what a win! Can’t wait to see my team do that again!
2. Ugh, that loss hurt! Can’t wait to see my team do better next game!
Ties leave fans with neither of those thoughts as they exit the arena or turn the TV channel. They lead to a shoulder shrug and a yawn. They do nothing to draw new fans into the sport or retain current fans for the long term.
Are shootouts the ideal manner by which to settle games? Of course not. Are they better than a slew of ties? Of course. So before you complain about shootouts taking over the game, consider the grass on the fence’s other side.
It isn’t greener over there. It’s a faded yellow nobody wants to host a picnic or party on.