Hatred For Shootouts Around the NHL is Misguided

Love them or hate them, the NHL won’t be getting rid of shootouts any time soon. Not because the league is trying to pander to casual hockey fans, and not because Gary Bettman is too stubborn to get kill off one of his darlings.

It’s because there is no other time efficient, skill-based way to end regular season hockey games.

All the cool kids bash the shootout on Twitter, where the NHL echochamber never rests or takes a day off. If there are seven or eight contests on the docket on a random night, odds are good that one will go to the shootout—systematically referred to as the skills competition by its detractors.

It’s become clear that some important people from around the league would like to curb the prevalence of this particular way of ending games. As Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien famously stated: “They suck. They suck.”

That idea seemed to pick up steam last summer, and the NHL decided to try out 3-on-3 overtimes in the AHL to see how it would impact games that went to extra time. As it turns out, opening up the ice by taking away two players from each side created a lot more finishes in the fourth period.

All 30 General Managers convened in Boca Raton, Florida for their annual meeting this week and 3-on-3 OT seems to have gained even more traction over the last 12 months. They recommended that some form of this overtime period be used, possibly as early as next season.

That’s good news for folks that hate stuff like this…

and this.

These aren’t hockey plays, purists say.

And so the grave dancing commences as shootout haters celebrate this victory. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense, since a lot of these folks hate the shootout because it’s a disgrace to the purity of the game. What, and 3-on-3 overtime is any better or different? Maybe it’s a preferred means to an end, but bashing the shootout for being impure and then celebrating a 3-on-3 doesn’t seem to make any sense.

We’ll see less shootouts if the powers that be decide to move forward with this OT plan, but don’t expect to ever see the league get rid of them entirely. The preference of all hockey fans is likely continuous overtime until a goal is scored, but that isn’t logistically possible.

Think about all the people that would be impacted by a triple overtime game on a random Tuesday night. Moreover, the league is going to stick with the tough back-to-back games too. That component of schedule making isn’t going anywhere and it’s hard on teams as it is. Could you imagine a squad playing 45 extra minutes of hockey on the first night of a back-to-back, then being expected to catch a plane and go play another game less than 24 hours later?

These are professional athletes, but that kind of physical stress is how injuries occur.

If you hate ties, then shootouts are the only real solution. Go ahead and get stoked about 3-on-3 OT, but it seems clear that the NHL simply wants skill to end hockey games in an era that has left ties in the dust.

It’s good to see the league be proactive in making these kinds of adjustments to the product. Too many shootouts is negative and discouraging to the people that play the games. But there’s still more work to be done. The proposed coach’s challenge makes sense, as does ditching the automatic delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass accidentally. There’s still an elephant in the room though.

Three-point hockey games. That’s right. The dreaded loser point.

It’s somewhat baffling that the GMs would be more concerned with fixing the shootout epidemic instead of addressing the real issue. Which is giving teams that lose hockey games a point anyway. The best example of the impact this can have is this season’s edition of the Florida Panthers.

On the surface, they look like an upstart team making a late charge for the playoffs. In reality, they have 10 OT/shootout losses (and seven wins) which basically gives them an extra five wins. Consider this: the Panthers have 31 victories and the Columbus Blue Jackets have 30. Yet the Jackets are 18 points out of a Wild Card spot, while Florida is within six.

That’s a sizable difference when we’re talking about a draft lotto team versus a team that could sneak into the postseason.

If overtime has a real issue, it’s not that a shootout happens when time expires. It’s that the losing team gets a point and can make progress up the standings despite not actually securing a win.

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