Contemplating the NHL Shootout: Should It Change?

Blake BenzelCorrespondent INovember 16, 2009

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 11:  Semyon Varlamov #40 of the Washington Capitals makes a save in the shootout against Jon Sim #16 of the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center on November 11, 2009 in Washington, DC.  The Capitals won the game 5-4 in a shootout.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Many who know me know that there are three hockey blogs that I visit religiously throughout my day. There is my colleague Justin Bourne’s Bourne’s Blog, Mike Russo’s Wild Blog, Russo’s Rants, and the Yahoo.com hockey blog, Puck Daddy.

There is a segment on Puck Daddy that runs from time to time called “Pass or Fail.” Usually my responses on this are contained to the comments portion, however, this is a topic that I feel could not only generate some lively debate, but also be an interesting topic of speculation, as well.

The extent of Mr. Wyshynski’s point can be found here.

But the culmination of his blog poses two questions. First, should the NHL allow players to have multiple attempts in the shootout at the coaches’ discretion past the initial rounds? Second, what do you feel the ideal format for the shootout is?

Let me preface my responses by saying that I absolutely love the shootout. I may be in the minority of hardcore hockey fans in this one, but I’m crazy about it. While it does, undeniably, suck (for lack of a better term) to lose a game by way of a glorified skills competition, there honestly isn’t anything much more exciting than this display of one-on-one skill.

The current format of the NHL’s shootout, as described by the NHL rule book, is as follows:

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“Three players from each team shall participate in the shootout and they shall proceed in such order as the Coach selects. All players are eligible to participate in the shootout unless they are serving a 10-minute misconduct or have been assessed a game misconduct or match penalty...

"Each team will be given three shots, unless the outcome is determined earlier in the shootout. After each team has taken three shots, if the score remains tied, the shootout will proceed to a 'sudden death' format. No player may shoot twice until everyone who is eligible has shot. If, however, because of injury or penalty, one team has fewer players eligible for the shootout than its opponent, both teams may select from among the players who have already shot. This procedure would continue until the team with fewer players has again used all eligible shooters.”

The intent of Wysh’s blog, however, was not to bring to light any changes to the rules of the shootout. Instead, it was to bring about a change proposed by Ari Baum-Cohen of Illegal Curve that was posted on Hot Dog Hockey. The crux of Baum-Cohen’s proposal was this:

“Shootouts in many European leagues have three shooters for each team followed by sudden death. Unlike the NHL, after the third shooter the same shooter can shoot as many times as he wants. This format would allow, in a tied shootout, Ovechkin and Crosby to battle until one player scored and one was stopped. It would also prevent a situation where players such as Brad May and Brooks Orpik shoot to decide the game.”

This brings me to the first portion of the question that Wysh posed. Pass or Fail: After the initial rounds, should the NHL allow players to have multiple attempts in the shootout at the coaches’ discretion and without restrictions?

My initial reaction to this was "Fail," because I feel that this would create far too many unfair advantages for the upper echelon of the NHL.

As I started to think about it, however, I began to realize the strategies that could unfold from this and began to change my mind.

So, to the first part, I say "Pass," with a large "but" attached to the end of it.

My main argument was that this would immediately tilt the scales in the advantage of teams with a higher talent level. For example, you could get situations where Alex Ovechkin is repeatedly shooting against Thomas Vokoun, whereas the Florida Panthers would be left to send players like Nathan Horton and Cory Stillman the other way.

In other words, I think that the NHL should strongly consider something like this rule, minus the "without restrictions" portion.

There simply needs to be restrictions put on this. As much as I love the idea of seeing Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk go back-and-forth scoring goals for 15 rounds, it would effectively eliminate any sort of strategy and, ultimately, make the shootout lose its appeal.

So, moving on to the second portion of the question, here are my proposed changes to the shootout.

First, the NHL should expand the shootout to a five-man lineup as opposed to a three-man lineup.

As it stands now, the shootouts are just too short for anyone to mount any sort of comeback. One bad bounce, one mistake, and it has the potential to be over. Expanding the shootout to five players would allow a little more margin for error. Not much, but enough.

Second, the NHL should make it so that players participating in the shootout must remove their lids.

Yes, I understand the so-called risk of injury. The player could lose and edge, or get tripped up by the goaltender and go crashing headfirst into the boards.

Has anyone ever seen this happen?

I can honestly say that I never have.

Finally, the coup de grace—the "but" on my "Pass."

After the initial rounds, the coaches have the full wealth of their bench available to use for a new five-skater lineup, the caveat being that this lineup must include two players who have not yet shot.

This does a few things.

First, it prevents teams from running their superstars ragged trying to score that elusive last shootout goal. Second, it injects an element of strategy back into the shootout because, let’s be honest, there’s nothing that is strategic in the least about superstar vs. superstar match-ups. Finally, it brings the surprise factor.

To me, there is nothing more exciting than a player who you don’t expect to score in the shootout scoring. This brings that back. It still allows for the Marek Malik-esque moments. It allows for just a little more excitement.

And, in the end, isn’t that what the NHL is going for?


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