THE NHL RECENTLY DECIDED TO RESTORE THE SHOOTOUT’S ALREADY FAILING LUSTRE-BY MAKING IT MORE BORING THEN IT ALREADY WAS
In the fall of 2005, NHL fans were treated to a shiny new on ice product. As a reward for returning in droves after squabbling between team owners and the players they employed kept the League’s stadiums dark for nearly sixteen months, NHL brass decided to put the dreaded (and boring) Dead Puck Era to rest. They injected fresh life into the game with a number of changes designed to promote offense and excitement. Among those exciting new ideas was the shootout, banishing ties from the standings and allowing the skilled elite the opportunity to decide the game and the game’s top starters the chance to save it with one on one goaltending heroics. It was hated by purists but was quickly embraced by the majority of fans, especially those who had plunked down a small mortgage payment to purchase seats. Now, nine seasons later, the same NHL brass decided to improve the shootout, once the darling of highlight reels, by making it boring.
Normally I ignore the NHL’s pre-season rule changes-they’re usually minor cosmetic adjustments-but when the League decided to ban the popular spinorama move from the shootout, I took a little bit of notice. I really don’t care about the shootout (it plays almost no role in my Edmonton Oilers fate; our addiction to losing during regulation takes care of that), and in fact, when a game does go to a shootout I lose interest. Like many other hockey fans, the novelty of the shootout seems to have worn off for me. Shooters score on les then a third of their attempts (32.8% to be precise) and while I couldn’t find any hard numbers on this, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen a dramatic increase of shootouts going to absurd lengths in recent years, where coaches are forced to send out their low skill enforcers in a shootout’s sixteenth round. And some owners have begun grumbling about the shootout’s unforeseen consequences on the standings (the New Jersey Devils 0-12 shootout record meant the difference between a playoff spot and booking tee time in early April).
The spinorama move in question, where a shooter spins away from the opposing goalie while moving close to top speed to both misdirect and redirect his shot, requires an extraordinary amount of skill and is a move that can only be found in the arsenal of the game’s top talents. When executed correctly, the spinorama summons fans to their feet and fills all the highlight reels that night. When executed properly by the likes of Sidney Crosby or Steve Stamkos or John Tavares or any of the game’s other offensive heavyweights, it makes sitting through 65 minutes of regulation and overtime worth it. If the goalie facing the shot prevents the goal, its usually with a save of the year type of effort and is equally entertaining. If a shooter lacking the appropriate skill attempts the move and fails, it’s usually worth its weight in laughs (and even the guy who couldn’t pull it off chuckles about it in post game interviews). Either way, it offered a way to decide a game with pure skill, the way it should be (or offered a few good natured laughs). So why would the League want to take that out? Especially with scoring declining every season and clutch and grab hockey steadily creeping back into the game.
Now whenever I climb up on my soapbox I’m often asked if I have a better option. Sure do. Abolish the point for a loser system, where a team that loses in overtime or the shootout is awarded a point despite losing. Remove the shootout, and bring back ties, but expand the current five-minute overtime format (played by four skaters a side) to ten minutes before calling a tie. The team who wins, either in regulation or the new ten-minute overtime period is awarded 2 points, the team that loses gets none regardless of when the game was decided and if the two sides are still deadlocked after OT they each walk away with a point. This prevents coaches playing boring, stifling “not to lose” hockey to get that extra point and insures that skill players will have plenty of opportunity to decide the contest in overtime.
Without the spinorama, the shootout, which had already seen it’s entertainment value decrease in recent seasons, is now just a tedious drill and its likely we’re going to see it reach absurd lengths more and more in the very near future. At this rate, none of us will be upset to see it go the way of the Dodo, possibly as early as next season.