It has become clear that many of those in the game have had it with the skills contest—there’s just too much on the line.
Know this, NHL fans: The shootout is not going away any time soon. As long as the commissioner has the initials G.B., regular-season games that end in a tie and aren’t ended during a five-minute overtime will continue to be decided by the gimmick, like it or not.
And there’s a growing number within the game who are liking it less and less. But with any luck, next season we might see a little (hopefully a lot) less of the shootout. Taking the temperature at December’s board of governors meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif., there is a growing list of GMs and executives who would like to see fewer contests decided by the shootout and are proponents of extending the overtime period by a few extra minutes—continuing to play four-on-four, or even three-on-three. Heck, one GM said he would play two-on-two if it meant avoiding the shootout.
The driving force behind the idea has been Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who despite having the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on his roster, endured a stretch of six consecutive shootout losses this season—11 straight dating back to last season. That is reason enough for wanting a change, but Holland has been pushing the idea for a few years.
We get it: Fans find the shootout entertaining. But it is no more entertaining than most overtime periods. With playoff races so tight—tighter than ever with realignment—and jobs often hanging in the balance, let the outcome be settled by actually playing the game. There’s a reason there aren’t shootouts in the playoffs, right?
A potential stumbling block, of course, will be convincing the
players, especially the big guns, to play a few extra intense minutes a night, but hopefully they’ll see the light, too.
It seems inevitable that within the next two or three years the NHL will add a couple of expansion teams. The realignment begs for it, evening the conferences at 16 teams apiece. But we fear the talent pool doesn’t run deep enough to add 50 players we’d actually pay to see play. The bottom line is, with the owners not having to share expansion money and with markets lining up for teams, you know it will eventually happen.
Brendan Shanahan was given a ringing endorsement for how he’s handled supplemental discipline. He’s done a good job, but he should continue to raise the punishment bar.
New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello is pleased with how discipline has been handled, but said something very wise: Respect comes from fear—the fear of not playing for an extended period of time. “The safety committee, they’re doing everything they can,” he said. “The responsibility has to be on the players. This is their game as well. They have to have respect for each other. Sooner or later, someone is going to miss a season [to suspension]. Maybe that fear will stop what we see and what liberties are taken.”
There is a belief that the length of suspensions will continue to grow for repeat offenders.
Amen to that.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.