A couple of days ago, a fellow THN editor asked me if I was still “down on the shootout.”
I promptly replied, “Yes.”
However, back when the tie-breaking format was introduced in 2005, I probably would’ve yelled, “Hell, yes!” and immediately launched into a double-decibel rant about the NHL selling out the game and the shootout’s complete lack of credibility.
“It’s a skills competition they ripped off from the All-Star Game!” I would’ve cried. “Nothing more than a novelty act!”
"Hockey is a team game!” I surely would’ve shouted. “Let the teams decide who wins and loses, not an individual player on a propped-up breakaway!”
Not being smart enough at the time, I wouldn’t have even thought to bring up the fact that four-column records (win–loss–overtime loss–shootout loss) are a royal pain in the standings. Or that the “loser point” would forever relegate a trusty stat like winning percentage to the trash pile. (Now teams have a “points percentage,” which is like winning percentage…but completely irrelevant.
A team could lose all 82 games in a shootout for a record of 0-0-82…And hey! Look! They’re .500! What a year! Stanley Cup, here we come! What do you mean there’s no shootout in the playoffs! Just wait…)
The truth is, though, I’ve mellowed on the shootout a bit.
I still feel the same way I did when it was thrust upon the league three years ago – that a player-versus-player competition is an awful way to decide a team game – but my passion has subsided with the passage of time.
I can even grudgingly concede – as long as you don’t throw it back in my face – that fans, for the most part, seem to like the shootout. If you’ve ever been in attendance for an NHL game that required one, you know the in-arena intensity shoots through the roof. And, definitely, entertaining the fans and giving season-ticket holders the feeling they got their money’s worth is important.
Nothing is more important than maintaining the integrity of the game. And while the introduction of the shootout did not sink the league’s credibility, it was a shot across the bow. Think about it. The next logical step is to introduce the shootout to decide playoff games; say, for games that remain tied after one 20-minute overtime period.
Surely, we can all agree that would be a terrible day for the league. NHL playoff overtime is the best thing about hockey – you could argue nothing is more exciting in the world of pro sports – and the last thing the league should do is tamper with its most thrilling aspect.
In fact, I think the league should go the other way and extend overtime during the regular season. Forget the shootout; how about 4-on-4 OT for 10 minutes instead of five? Or 20 minutes? Or play until someone scores; that’s what sudden-death overtime is all about.
The naysayers might complain about games going too long – granted, no one wants to stay up until two in the morning on a Tuesday night in February to see who wins the fifth St. Louis-Nashville meeting – but the fact is, more than 40 percent of regular season games that go to overtime are decided within the five-minute frame. Plus, if teams know they don’t have the option to try and “hold on” for a shootout, they’ll be more apt to go for the win in OT.
And if it’s really a big concern that far too many games would go on for far too long, why not go to 3-on-3 after 10 minutes of 4-on-4? There won’t be any triple-overtime marathons under that format, we can guarantee you. Granted, 3-on-3 is a little cartoony, but it’s much better than deciding games with a 1-on-1 format.
Pretty much anything is.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.
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