Fans in L.A. watch the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews bear down on the Kings' Jon Quick during a Saturday shootout. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
Little by little, the hockey world is hearing rumblings of discontent with the NHL’s adoption of the shootout as a regular-season solution to decide tied games.
First, esteemed radio/TV veteran Bob McCown laid into it. The equally respected New York Post columnist Larry Brooks followed that up with a shootoutophobic column of his own.
I’ve got a lot of time for Larry and Bob, but I’ve got to disagree with them. Not because any particular aspect of their arguments is faulty, but because both men seem open to the possibility of the reinstatement of a system allowing games to end in ties.
If I can’t be clearly perfect, let me be perfectly clear: Ties suck. They always have sucked and they always will suck. If thinking about their utter pointlessness as an entertainment option didn’t raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels, I’d conjure up many more ways to associate them with the word “suck.”
That is why the shootout was the right solution for the NHL when it was adopted after the 2004-05 lockout season – and why it still works today. It assures the average ticket buyer they won’t be held hostage in their seats through unlimited overtimes, watching increasingly defensive approaches by teams, until the break of dawn.
“Just let them play until somebody scores!” the anti-shootout forces usually say.
That’d be fine and good, except, over the course of 41 regular-season home games, you usually don’t want to make those in attendance wait until 2:30 in the morning for too many nights. If you want your customers to keep coming back, you usually have to get them to public transit depots before they shut down for the evening.
Unlimited overtime virtually guarantees that will not happen on occasion.
But never let it be said I’m not willing to listen and adapt. I’d be fine with scrapping the shootout in favor of a 3-on-3 solution after the first overtime period, but only on one condition:
If the score remains tied after the first five-minute period of 3-on-3 play, I want a coach from each side sent to his respective dressing room at the start of every subsequent period until such time there are no coaches in the playing area. At that point, the teams can play as long as they need to until someone scores.
Yeah, I’m serious. And no, I’m not being facetious regarding my previous statement about being serious.
Hockey traditionalists should be all for this idea. Does it not bring us back to yonder days of olden glory, where it was often just one coach (and some greasy-looking chap with a box of Band-Aids and roll of grip tape who called himself a trainer) occupying the immediate space behind the players? I think the grammatically inappropriate, broken-English sounding answer is “yes, it do.”
Putting an end to the shootout would mark a return to a sporting structure that wastes the time and saps the energy of its paying customers – unless the NHL is committed to clawing back some advances the coaching fraternity has made in recent decades and reversing the micro-guiding and defense-ification of the sport. Taking away coaches from the equation could achieve that goal rather nicely.
But let’s get back to the central message of this rant: ties suck. They really do suck. That’s why I’m quite all right with leaving the NHL’s current system intact.
If shootouts are the only way to avoid ties and deliver swift-ish endings to games, such means – however unkempt and imperfect – are justified in full.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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