Every time you think you are smarter than all those NHL coaches, they come back and prove that they are just a little bit smarter.
When hockey returned after the lockout in 2005, we were witness to some of the most exciting conclusions to regular-season games. Four-on-four overtime, which the league instituted in 1999-2000, had already created five minutes of run-and-gun hockey, and the addition of the shootout helped attract new fans and re-engage those who thought the clutch and grab game was ruining hockey. Many people thought that having just four skaters per side was a sign of the future of the game. Heck, there was even a thought that playoff games should be decided that way.
Except someone forgot to tell the coaches whose lives depended not on creating excitement, but rather winning. And no one said winning had to be exciting. But since the addition of the shootout, overtime periods are not near as exciting because: A) coaches had learned to defend with four skaters, and B) were willing to take their chances with the skills competition to get the extra point.
This is one time the statistics don’t lie.
Last season, 56 per cent of all overtime games went to a shootout. This season that number is up over 72 per cent. Teams have decided to play boring overtimes, and then use their skill players to win the game against the goalies. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
There has been discussion at the league office that something just might have to be done, perhaps even removing the five-minute overtime period and going right to the shootout. And it might just have some merit, for a few good reasons:
– It would create more value in the last few minutes of regulation.
– The ice would be in better shape before shots were taken.
– The games would be over in less time.
All are positives.
In talking to a few club management people the past few days, I got the distinct impression that hockey people didn’t like the idea, but it paled in comparison to their hatred for the shootout. In totally independent conversations, every person mentioned that they preferred getting rid of the shootout, and going to three-on-three hockey instead. Games that weren’t settled after that would remain tied.
And while the end results are different, everyone is in agreement that something should be done to ensure that the end of games remain exciting, so that the fans will come back for more. And that the coaches won’t be able to jeopardize everyone’s desire to create entertaining, winning hockey.