BOSTON (CBS) – Every cause needs a face.
Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has emerged as the man to lead to the charge to end the shootout and get back to deciding hockey games with actually team hockey, or maybe even bringing back the “dreaded” tie.
After the Bruins and St. Louis Blues staged some of the best playoff-level hockey you’ll ever see in the regular season, and couldn’t settle the score through 65 minutes of action Thursday, the Blues prevailed 2-1 in a shootout for a 3-2 win in the game at TD Garden.
Rask, who never hid his disdain for the shootout (especially when he lost it) in the past, detected the weakness in the pro-shootout folks’ defense of the spectacle recently when the general managers met and began plans to extend overtime or do other things to reduce the number of shootouts. The percentage of games ending in a shootout is on a record pace through the first two months of the 2013-14 season.
Finally, Rask did more than just slam his stick. He slammed the shootout.
“I’d gas them right away. Midseason,” the early-season favorite for the Vezina Trophy said after the game. “Take them away. I don’t [bleeping ] want it.”
Hallelujah! All hail Rask. Now the NHL has its poster child for why this foolish attempt to send fans home “satisfied” was a mistake thrust upon the sport by people who never played the game. Other players have let slip some frustration with the shootout in the past, but none had put it so eloquently.
Now it’s time to make the shootout go the way of the glow puck and turn it into an unfortunate footnote on the history of the league.
Unlike the anti-fighting crowd’s cause, the anti-shootout sentiment has more than a majority of supporters among the players, who should be the most important decision-makers in this battle. Only they know what it’s like to fight for every inch of ice for 65 minutes and then see a game decided by skills competition that often is won by a player who doesn’t contribute much else to his team, or worse, a trick move that should be left to post-practice extra work not be a factor in the league standings.
When pacifists try to come for their fighting, players speak up. Many of them rely on the bouts for their livelihood, so they rebut vociferously to get non-players’ hands off their fighting. Off the record, most players have the same attitude about the shootout. When the notebooks and cameras are out, however, they mostly toe the company because the League loves its shootout and the revenue it allegedly brings in, and the players want those revenues.
Now Rask has broken the glass. It’s time to pull out the shootout extinguisher and douse the shootout. The League claims the fans love it. After all, no one leaves when the shootout starts. If you’re paying NHL prices for 2 ½ hours of entertainment, you’re going to try to squeeze out every last bit of fun from that ticket and whatever you just shelled out for concessions. You could have a fight, a Zamboni race or even a game of musical chairs to decide who gets the extra point. People will stay to watch anything because they’ve already paid for it. No one who even casually likes hockey can stomach so much importance being heaped on the shootout.
The horse probably is too far out of the barn for the NHL to go back to ties. So if they want to decide a winner, stop rewarding teams for losing. You take away that “loser point” for making it to overtime, teams will try harder to win. Then you can extend overtime, maybe switch ends to make for a long line change, and maybe even do 3-on-3. Of course, current proposals still include a shootout just to make sure there are a winner and loser at the end of the overtimes. It would be sad to see more playoff spots decided by the shootout, but shootouts would at least be greatly reduced by implementing all the above-mentioned measures – especially getting rid of the “loser point.”
Hopefully someday soon, we’ll live in a world where hockey games are decided by hockey. And Tuukka Rask will have his face (or maybe just his masked) chiseled into the Mount Rushmore of hockey pioneers.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
MORE SPORTS COVERAGE FROM CBS BOSTON