If not for the points they gained in the shootout, the Edmonton Oilers would not have made the playoffs two years ago. With their success in the skills competition being a huge factor in their run to the Stanley Cup final, the Oilers are one of the few teams in the NHL that truly appreciates the value of the extra point in the standings.
We'll presume that was one of the reasons they drafted Sam Gagner last June, the same Sam Gagner who is keeping the Oilers in the thick of the playoff race as a rookie. Gagner scored his fourth shootout goal of the season Monday night, which is tied with teammate Ales Hemsky for the league lead in that category. More importantly, a league-high three of them have been game winners.
His success in the shootout should come as no surprise. Last season as a 17-year-old rookie in the OHL, Gagner scored six shootout goals on 10 shots for the London Knights to finish second in the league in that category.
Gagner's proficiency in the shootout should have teams taking notice. Once the Oilers are faced with the decision whether or not to send Gagner back to junior hockey, don't you think they'll be taking his shootout acumen into consideration? You bet they will.
And it's time more teams did the same. Instead of treating the shootout as a sideshow, teams that think it's perfectly fine to keep a player on the bench whose sole purpose is to fight will sooner or later have to consider keeping a shootout specialist. Neither Gagner nor Hemsky are among the top 60 scorers in the NHL – Hemsky is tied for 63rd and Gagner is tied for 196th with one of the worst plus-minus rankings in the league at minus-9 – but between them they have five shootout winners for the Oilers, who lead the league with seven shootout victories.
On the surface, you could make a pretty good case that Gagner might be in a little over his head in the NHL and should be sent back to junior after a stint with the Canadian team at the World Junior Championship. But the way he's winning games in the shootout, the chances of that happening are non-existent.
Wasn't that a beauty coming from the mouth of Scott Nichol of the Nashville Predators, saying he thought his five-game suspension for crosschecking Patrice Brisebois was too steep?
Yo, dude, here's how it works: When the league suspends you for something, part of the motivation is to make the sentence act as a deterrent. If you don't know what that word means, basically they want to encourage you not to do things like that again. But obviously you're not getting the message, since this is your fifth suspension.
I laughed almost as hard when I read Nashville GM David Poile's comments concerning the suspension: "I think he really got suspended on his past reputation. All I can think of is he got punished for his past because he's a repeat offender."
Almost as funny as that was the Riley Cote suspension accompanied by news from the NHL that the Philadelphia Flyers are now on double-secret probation. (For all of you too young to get that one, it's an hilarious bit from the movie Animal House.)
The league basically wagged its finger at the Flyers and, like a frustrated parent, told the Flyers that one more transgression and they'd really be in trouble.
And like the kid with one ear in his iPod and the other listening to the blather from his folks, the Flyers are probably sitting there saying, "Bite me," all the while telling the league what it wants to hear.
The truth is Nichol, Poile, the Flyers and Cote just don't get it. And they never will, until the league really gets serious about these kinds of things.
Until then, the Flyers will continue to bash heads in and players such as Nichol will keep punching and high-sticking people.