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Can NHL Finally Move On From The Shootout?

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Patrice Bergeron (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Patrice Bergeron (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — I’m sick of the shootout.

I say that not as some snotty hockey purist or as someone who’s always stood adamantly against breakaway competition which determines a “winner” and “loser” after 65 minutes of hard-fought hockey. I say it as someone who’s watched countless shootouts over the past seven-plus seasons, and I’ve simply had my full.

We don’t need the shootout anymore.

Sure, maybe back in 2005, when hockey in America was only slightly more popular than badminton, the NHL needed something shiny and new to entice people to tune into the Outdoor Life Network (after the conclusion of a hunting or fishing program) and watch the sport of hockey. It didn’t necessarily work in terms of national TV ratings, but it definitely did add an unmeasurable level of “excitement” to the games. Most hockey fans watched overtime periods that year hoping they’d get to see the newfangled shootout, and it no doubt added a new element to the game.

Eight years later, the novelty has worn off.

I never really felt too strongly about putting an end to the shootout, and honestly, I still don’t. I just think 4-0n-4 hockey is infinitely more exciting than a slowed-down series of breakaways.

Already, in just six home games for the Bruins this season, three have gone to the shootout. Each one of those five-minute periods of 4-on-4 hockey provided incredible entertainment value. Defensemen force themselves out of their comfort zones to join rushes, and a save or a blocked shot immediately turns into an odd-man rush the other way. There are so many scoring chances, and the puck goes from end to end, back and forth, over and over again so many times that your brain can’t keep track of everything you’ve just seen. It’s the real-life equivalent of those wild NHL Hitz video games from the early 2000s.

The 4-on-4 overtime period is not hockey in its purest form, but it may be its most exciting form.

Yet, after five minutes of pure mayhem, it all stops. Momentum is halted, the crowd settles down, the Zamboni comes out for a few minutes and everyone sits around waiting to see a skills competition that only somewhat resembles the sport they just watched for 65 minutes.

The shootout’s biggest problem is nothing new — it’s just not hockey. (Its biggest crime is also ruining the thrill of seeing the rare penalty shot, which used to feel like a once-in-a-lifetime event whenever it actually took place during a game. Now? Just another shootout attempt.) It takes elements of hockey to create a made-for-TV event, but calling one team a “winner” and the other a “loser” after a shootout always seems to be an inaccurate description of what took place at the rink that night.

And why do we still have the shootout? I’ve never gotten the impression that the majority of players and coaches like it, particularly when they come out on the losing end. Does the shootout exist so that fans don’t have to go home with the disappointment of witnessing a tie after shelling out big bucks for tickets? That can’t be it, because for one, since when does the league care about how fans feel? And even more importantly, fans would probably prefer going home after a tie than seeing their home team “lose” in a shootout. Regardless, fans’ feelings shouldn’t dictate how a league determines the way which it hands out points and determines standings.

But the shootout has been rallied against for years now, so none of that is new. So what is a better alternative?

For me, it’s kind of simple. You keep the 4-on-4 overtime, and you extend it to at least 10 minutes. If you wanted to keep it as a sudden-death overtime for up to 20 minutes. I wouldn’t have a problem with that, though that admittedly would be a ton of wear and tear on players if the period did last the full 20 minutes. That wouldn’t happen too often, though.

So what happens at the end of that 10-minute OT period? I personally wouldn’t mind the return of ties, and if you take away the automatic point for reaching overtime, you have to think you’d be damn near guaranteed to see a goal scored in 10 minutes of 4-on-4 (even more so if referees are instructed to call penalties the same way they would in the middle of the second period).

But if you really hate ties, and if you really don’t want to take away the automatic one point for making it to overtime, there are options. There’s the aforementioned 20-minute OT, or you could keep the shootout, but save it for at least five extra minutes of overtime. That’s a fair compromise, and it may actually bring back a bit of the thrill of the shootout, because they’d be far less common.

Call me crazy, but it’s my belief that hockey players prefer playing hockey, coaches prefer coaching hockey and fans prefer watching hockey more than they want to see a manufactured stretch of excitement.

Maybe I don’t speak for the masses. I see and hear the crowd “ooh” and “ahh” with each deke, and each glove save, and I do enjoy the occasional jaw-dropping move from Pavel Datsyuk or Rick Nash. I’m not a crazy person.

I just think the current NHL overtime and shootout system has run its course. Hockey is what it is. Let’s allow the actual sport to decide which teams earn their two points. We’re ready for it.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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