Rapier-sharp reflexes come in handy when you’re an NHL goalie, but they’re less useful to hockey executives, fans and analysts. Sometimes, they’re even downright dangerous.
The further along the technological track we travel, the more impatient we become and the more we itch for instant gratification. When it comes to controversial situations that arise in our game, we tend to judge snapshots as opposed to trends.
A player gets clocked by a mid-ice check, his legs buckle and our knees jerk. A team’s top stopper allows four goals in a game and there’s an outcry to send him to the minors. A guy goes through a scoring drought late in his career and we deem him “done.” We’ve had coaches fired in the first year of their contracts. “Now” has never been more fleeting. I’ve been as guilty of this syndrome as anyone.
This season, shootouts have come under attack because they’ve risen sharply. We’re on pace for about 225; there were 159 last year. Your odds of seeing one in 2009-10 are about one-in-five. When the NHL introduced them in 2005-06, those odds were one-in-10.
So the inclination, for some, is to abolish them. They’ve outlived their usefulness, they don’t encourage games to end in regulation or overtime any longer, they’ve lost their spark. All that may be true, but do we have enough of a sampling to make that determination? Are there ways to make it more relevant again?
The shootout entered the NHL after the lockout with nearly as much fanfare as Sidney Crosby. At one time, it had a very high approval rating. So it must have some redeeming qualities, right? As a marriage counsellor might ask, “what made you love it in the first place?”
Back in 2005-06, the shootout was new and occurred less frequently. Each encounter held more meaning. Perhaps that’s the place we need to revisit.
How to get there? First, by giving it more time. This may be a blip. Let it truly run its course. If, after several more months or another season, a real trend emerges and it’s deemed the shootout is severely devaluing regulation time, then start looking at alternatives.
My leading candidate, if we get to that point, is 4-on-4 for five minutes, followed by 3-on-3 for another five. Or if 10 OT minutes is too much for logistical purposes, make each situation three or four minutes. I’m also a proponent of the soccer points system – three for a regulation win, one for an OT or shootout win, none for a loss. The two schemes could work together.
But before making the leap to yet another change, let’s be sure we’re not reacting as quickly as Martin Brodeur’s glove hand.
AND ONE MORE THING
I agree with my colleague Ken Campbell that the league should have done something to address Keith Ballard’s slash, but a suspension wouldn’t have been the proper fit.
Ballard’s swipe was reckless and imitations need to be dissuaded. That said, it’s not a trend (there’s that word again); it’s the first time I recall a player injuring a teammate in such a fashion. There have been instances where guys have hurt colleagues with excessive and ill-advised celebrations, but nobody would suggest they be suspended.
A ban on Ballard would have been a double-whammy for the Panthers after already losing Tomas Vokoun – it’s simply unjust to penalize the team further. More appropriate discipline would be a stiff, publicized fine. The man has already shown contrition and told “the kids out there” what he did was wrong; several thousand dollars on top of an apology would have sent the right message.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays.
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