Why NHL Fans Are Stuck with the Shootout for the Foreseeable Future

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Why NHL Fans Are Stuck with the Shootout for the Foreseeable Future
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

It sounds like the NHL won't be using a new gimmick to mitigate the problems being caused by an old gimmick.

That's a good thing, although it still doesn't solve the problem of games being decided by a shootout.

According to what's being reported at the general managers meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., the appetite for using an extended overtime that would feature three-on-three hockey in the hopes of lessening the impact of shootouts appears to be weak.

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has been the champion of using a three-on-three format to decide contests. While there was some support for the idea in the past, Canadian Press writer Stephen Whyno noted that it's not quite as strong today:

That's Capitals general manager George McPhee explaining that three-on-three is a bad idea because star players taking two or three extra shifts per gameperhaps an extra 90 seconds of ice timecould lead to injury.

It's not exactly the best reasoning, but what's important here is GMs as a whole are against the concept.

They're doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, although they're not getting to the root of the problem—the shootout itself.

Consider this line of reasoning for a moment and attempt to spot the flaw in it.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

  1. General managers identify that deciding games with a breakaway contestNHL.com's Dan Rosen indicates that this has happened in about 13 percent of games since it was enacted in 2005-06is a bad idea.
  2. General managers look for an idea as to how to get rid of the breakaway contest no one really likes.
  3. One general manager puts forth an idea to play three-on-three hockey for four minutes so games are decided in that fashion and not by the breakaway contest.

Somehow, despite a majority of GMs recognizing that shootouts aren't the best way to decide games and award points, they don't push to rid themselves of a three vs. three breakaway contest. Instead, there's a push for a three-on-three hockey contest that usually devolves into a breakaway or two-on-one contest.

Why not just, you know, take away the shootout and go back to allowing games to end in ties? Ties worked for nearly 90 years in the NHL and millions of soccer fans show up to matches across the world knowing full well a draw could be in their future, and no one seems to have a problem with that.

If the shootout is the problem, remove the shootout. If you identify a tumor growing inside your body, do you get the tumor removed or do you get a haircut?

Harry How/Getty Images

It seems like the NHL just wants to get a haircut to distract from the problem, but it decided three-on-three isn't a good look and will likely instead have teams switch ends for overtime.

It's a minor adjustment, but a smart one, as the longer distance to make line changes—the way it is in the second period—has proven to lead to more scoring.

The overarching issue is that games won in shootouts are worth two points, which is the same as winning in overtime or regulation.

Those in charge of the Olympics seem aware that wins after regulation should be worth fewer points, as a 60-minute win in the international tournament is worth three points and anything thereafter gets you two points.

The NHL won't adopt that method, though. Why? Because the current system creates the illusion of competitiveness. Three-point games allow the dregs of the league to survive a few weeks deeper into the season before they are officially or unofficially eliminated from postseason contention. 

The system used during the Olympics would destroy that setup, one from which the NHL reaps extra revenue.

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Those few extra weeks before the writing on the wall becomes clear keeps fans coming to games and watching on television when they'd otherwise turn their attention to baseball's spring training or the NBA. That's money in the pockets of teams, teams that have owners, owners that have general managers.

That's why when general managers recognize the folly of the shootout, they recognize the folly of putting forth an idea like no more shootouts or a new points system. It would take money out of their owners' pockets.

The NHL will never surgically remove the shootout tumor and it seems to have rejected the three-on-three overtime haircut.

For now, a fancy hat in the form of switching sides in overtime will have to distract fans from the bulging mass sticking out of the NHL's neck. 

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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