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Hockey shootouts need to change

October 21, 2010
By Keith Shelton


That's the sound of another hockey game ending suddenly with an individual effort. The puck trickling off the skater's stick on a breakaway, beating the goalie, and that's all she wrote.

If this were to happen in a playoff triple overtime game, it would be a thrilling conclusion. Fans would point to the play as a reason why hockey is the greatest sport on earth, but what about in a shootout, in the regular season?

The experiment has run its course. The NHL introduced the shootout for the 2005-06 season as a way to renew interest in the game. It would eliminate the possibility of a tie, giving every game a clear winner and loser.

In going to the shootout the NHL hoped to capitalize on the excitement of the "anything can happen" nature of playoff overtime.

And sure, the shootout is exciting. There's that whole novelty aspect to it. The breakaway is the most exciting play in hockey. A player intercepts the puck and finds himself all alone, soaring down the ice with only the goalie to beat and a real chance to score. There's no time to think about the goalie's tendencies or what move to make. it's over in a split second, no thinking involved.

However, in a shootout, its artificial. No play is created in a shootout. The goalie sits in his net, and they plop a puck down at center ice and tell the player to try and score. Before the puck is dropped the player and the goalie try to read each other's minds, because there's time to do that. More often then not, you get players overthinking their move and missing the net entirely, which is pretty embarrassing seeing as they're unencumbered on their way there.

Any way you look at it, it's not the same.

Hockey, at it's heart, is a true team sport. Maybe the greatest players in the game like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk have the ability to create scoring plays by themselves, but for the rest of the players, they need help.

They need solid defensive players on the blue line to control the puck and get it to their forwards. Maybe you get a three on two rush out of it and create a tic-tac-toe play to score. In such a situation, every player on the ice is integral to the play.

There is nothing team oriented about a shootout. You have two teams that played hard for three 20 minute periods and then a four-on-four five minute overtime period and remain deadlocked, and then you take the team out of the equation and leave it to one skater and your goalie to decide the game.

It's not right.

Sure, no fan wants to see the game end in a tie. Ties are empty. They make you feel like you just wasted a few hours of your life just to see two teams end up right back where they started.

The shootout is no solution though. Shootouts take roughly five minutes to complete, so why not throw in a three-on-three five minute overtime instead?

Could ties still occur after a four-on-four overtime followed by a three-three overtime? Yes, but it would be a rare occurance and it wouldn't eliminate the team aspect of the sport.

Three-on-three overtime would be arguably more exciting than an artificial shootout. Players would have plenty of room to play to their fullest ability. Sportscenter would be packed with the plays that would develop out of a wide open three-on-three overtime period.

The NHL should consider it, but it likely won't happen anytime under commissioner Gary Bettman's watch. He hails the shootout as an innovation that draws in additional viewership.

But it could come at the cost of eventually alienating dedicated hockey fans.



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