NHL’s shootout experiment has outlived its usefulness

Jason Kay
Swedish Peter Forsberg slides the puck past Canadi

I don’t always agree with Ken Campbell, but when I do, he’s right.

Our senior writer authored a column for the magazine we’re closing this week in which he opines it’s time for the NHL to shoot down the shootout. I’ve been on that hobby horse in my head for some time now.

For me, the shootout has never quite lived up to its billing. It was (and still is) used in dramatic situations at international events prior to its adoption by the NHL in 2005-06, and had us on the edge of our seats occasionally. That’s when gold medals were on the line or teams faced sudden elimination from competitions. With the stakes raised so high, especially if you were emotionally invested in your nation’s fate, the concept was an adrenaline rush.

It made it seem like a good idea, at the time.

But in practice, in regular season professional games, when it’s a single point up for grabs, the affair is often anticlimactic. Sure, the additional points can theoretically make or break a team at season’s end, but it’s a difficult calculation to extrapolate. Who knows how games would end if they were allowed to do so organically, or how the dynamic would change if there were no shootouts?

The shootout is a spectacle, but a manufactured one, not spontaneous. We pay attention because of the finality and skill. It’s forced. It’s exclusionary. And it’s happening far too often – we’re on pace for a record 190-plus games ending with the penalty shot competition. In 2005-06, that number was 145.

The alternative? I prefer exploring Ken Holland’s solution, or some variation thereof. Ten or eight minutes of overtime, half at 4-on-4, the second half at 3-on-3.

Games would not stretch much longer than they do now, if at all. The shootout already takes several minutes to stage. Besides the average length of a contest is about 2:20, hardly an eternity. If I’m paying $100 or more per ticket for a night’s worth of entertainment, an extra two or three minutes might be welcome, not shunned.

And if game time were truly a concern, the league could go back to enforcing the hurry-up faceoff. Teams are supposed to have five seconds to get set for a draw once the referee lowers his arm, signals no further line changes and the linesman blows the whistle. The linesman, at that point, is supposed to drop the puck, but how often does that last longer than five seconds?

Yes, we’d have to accept ties, but surely they’d be diminished due to 3-on-3 play. And sometimes, isn’t a tie the just result? When teams have battled hard for 65 or 70 minutes and an ultimate victor cannot be determined, there is some honor in shaking hands and calling a truce. Hey, it even happens in the NFL every few seasons.

The shootout was a worthwhile attempt by the NHL to infuse new life into a game that needed a shakeup following the Dead Puck Era and entice fans back after a year-long lockout. It has served its purpose and is now stale. It’s time to move on.