SOCHI – Nobody knows what the future of Olympic participation or the shootout is in the NHL. For all we know, both of them might be history by the next time the world convenes for the Winter Games four years from now.
But if the Olympics, and Saturday’s game between USA and Russia should have taught the NHL anything, it’s that the best league in the world should take a page from the international game when it comes to the shootout.
There are two things that make shootouts far more compelling in international hockey than the NHL. The first is the gravity of the situation. A gold medal can, and has, come down to the penalty shot exhibition in the past. The second is the International Ice Hockey Federation’s rule that allows players to shoot as many times as they want after the first three shots are taken.
Think about it. If this is supposed to be the star-on-star skill spectacle it’s intended to be, wouldn’t everyone rather see the best players in the league going hammer and tong at each other? Certainly a T.J. Oshie-Ilya Kovalchuk-Pavel Datsyuk type shooting exchange would spice up what has become a rather dull ritual. Watching Oshie go in east-west and use a full array of moves, countered by Kovalchuk coming in at full speed, then lobbing one over Jonathan Quick, is the shootout at its best.
Or as the ebullient David Backes put it: “(Shooter) No. 8, they might have started to look to somebody like me in a situation like that. And I tell you what, it wouldn’t have been that pretty. You get to see the full gamut of the guys’ moves. Datsyuk, Kovalchuk same thing. Kovalchuk rips the one high glove and then all of a sudden he does that little fadeaway flipper shot. I don’t know how you do that, but I might practice that on Monday.”
Earlier this season, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman pointed out that the shootout has become a goaltending competition instead of a skills competition. Allowing guys such as Oshie and Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews to shoot multiple times would go a long way toward tilting what has become a huge advantage for goaltenders somewhat the other way. And it might actually breathe some new life into the much-maligned shootout. The scheme has come under fire in a big way among hockey people who see it as too much of a gimmick. Perhaps spicing it up the way the IIHF has would bring a few of those critics around.
The IIHF almost has it right with the way it distributes shootout points as well. In international play, teams winning in regulation get three points, but only two are awarded if the team wins in either overtime or a shootout. The team losing the shootout gets one point.
I’d like to see a team get the same number of points for winning in regulation or overtime. But aside from that, the IIHF has it right when it comes to the shootout and it’s time for the NHL to take note.