As the NHL season hits the quarter pole, many teams are already scrambling to salvage their season. Talks of blockbuster trades involving young, potential franchise players swapping cities, has general managers across North America driving up their phone bills.
The league has a lot more parity this year than say five years ago, and that is one of the reasons, along with a tight salary cap, why teams have been hesitant to make that major move. Very few teams are out of the playoff picture at this point, and the few that are realize they may be a player or two away from taking that next step, resulting in caution and patience being preached.
One of the aspects of the game that has separated playoff contenders from lottery hopefuls is the skills competition…uh, shootout.
The shootout was brought into the game after the 2004 lockout in an attempt to make the game more exciting, and bring fans back to the arena. It was one of the many rule changes that attempted to bring more offense into the game, therefore making them more exciting. (Although a 2-1 game can be just as exciting as a 5-4 game.) For the first few seasons, this worked, and there were little complaints from general managers and fans.
Lately however, the outlook on shootouts has greatly shifted around the league. The game has grown across North America, and in particular, the United States. While shootouts may have helped this, at this point, they have grown old, and there is no evidence that kids will stop playing and watching the game if there is the no potential for a shootout. United States hockey had enjoyed some international success, even before the shootout was brought into the NHL.
As everyone saw in 2010, when the two lowest seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs were competing against each other in the Conference Finals, or in 2012 when the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup as the Western Conference’s lowest seed, it is just a matter of getting in to the playoffs in the NHL.
Each point is so valuable, and points earned in October mean just as much to a team’s playoff hopes as those earned in March. That is what has general managers and fans everywhere shaking their heads about the shootout.
When a game goes into overtime, it is guaranteed to be a three point game. (1 point for the loser, two for the winner) Before the 2004 lockout, when the NHL still had ties, a lot fewer games would result in three points being handed out. While some teams pick up an extra point every time a game goes into a shootout, other teams, like the 2013 New Jersey Devils, lose every shoot out of the year.
If the Devils would have just won half the shootouts they played last year, they would have been a playoff team. Going back to the beginning of last season, they have lost 17 out of 18 shootouts. On the other hand, if the Islanders were only half as good in shootouts as they are, they would not be contending for the top spot in the NHL.
It really seems like such a silly way to end a very competitive hockey game. There is a reason it is not used in the playoffs.
So what does the NHL do about this? They have experimented with dry scraping the ice after regulation, but that tampers with the momentum a team can gain or lose at the end of a game. There has also been talk that the NHL will implement a 3-on-3, five minute overtime to help increase the number of games that end in overtime, as opposed to a shootout.
As much as some would like to see shootouts go, it seems like they are here to stay. If I were commissioner, I would give some serious thought into making all games worth three points.
By that I mean if a team wins in regulation, they are awarded three points, while the loser gets none. Meanwhile, the point distribution towards teams in games that end after regulation, whether it is in overtime or a shootout, would remain the same.
This would ensure that teams like the Washington Capitals of 2012-13, do not come so close to stealing a playoff bid because they won nearly half of their games in a skills completion.
While we can speculate how or if the NHL will change its current overtime format, teams will have to just continue to try to improve their shootout skills, because it can be the difference in making the postseason, and once you’re there, anything can happen.
Billy Peterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org