PENTICTON, BC. — As years go by and as the novelty wears off, more and more people seem to grow frustrated of seeing crucial hockey games and playoffs positioning being decided by what was originally introduced a long time ago as a skills competition. It seems like more and more games are being decided that way, a true shame to the sport.
The numbers certainly support the general feeling. In 2007-08, 156 or 272 overtime games were decided by the shootout. In comparison, 184 or 301 games finished the same way in 2009-10. It looks like more teams are playing to get to the shootout rather than trying to win games in regulation or OT.
“You’re looking at a skills competition that gets Philadelphia into the playoffs,” said Mike Gillis, GM of the Vancouver Canucks, referring to their shootout win over the Rangers in the last game of the regular season.
“I think a lot of the rules changes coming out of the lockout were great, but this was a wrinkle, or a wart, that we may have to look at”, said Brian Burke. “I think when we put the shootout in, we never envisioned the unreasonable, disproportionate percentage of games that would be decided in a shootout.”
At the General Managers’ meeting last spring, Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s suggested abolishing the shootout by adding an additional overtime period at 3-on-3 and it was rather well received by his peers. Unfortunately, the changes have yet to be implemented and one has to wonder what is holding things up.
The 3-on-3 overtime format is not a new concept as the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) has been using it instead of the shootout for several years, and the experience is proving to work for the league and fans alike! When a game is tied after regulation, the teams play the first overtime for five minutes at 4-on-4, just as we know it in the NHL. If, at the end of the first overtime, the game is still tied, they then proceed with five minutes at 3-on-3.
Before flying off the handle here, hear me out. For one, it’s still a team game instead of a one-on-one skills competition. Secondly, I personally wasn’t a fan of the idea until I got to experience it, being able to watch the BCHL first hand for years now. Two of the most entertaining games of the year last year that I was given to watch, all levels included, were tie games.
I’ve done some research and here are some very interesting stats to back up the idea:
- In the past 7 seasons, the BCHL has seen 3,510 regular season’s games
- Of those games, 544 were decided in OT, either at 4-on-4 or at 3-on-3
- Only 74 games in seven seasons ended in a tie, about two per cent of all games played
What does that mean? If we use that two per cent and put it on a NHL 82 games schedule, it represents less than one game per season per team ending in a tie. Considering that this percentage is calculated at the junior level, just imagine NHL caliber players playing the second overtime at 3-on-3, where every rush is a two-on-one! It could very well be even less than that. You can be watching the most boring game, the last ten minutes of overtime will give fans entertainment for their money, it’s guaranteed! Now if the NHL can’t live with that, I don’t know what’s wrong with them.
So can we please get our game back instead of trying to lure fair-weather fans? How long before the NHL realizes that aside from eliminating tie games, their gimmick did not achieve what they were hoping for? The NBA doesn’t decide games with free-throws. The NFL, the most successful pro sport in North America, doesn’t decide winners with a field goals contest or with having the quarterback throwing the football through hoops. MLB doesn’t end games with a home-run derby.
There’s a reason for that folks: it’s not part of the game, as those are all skills competitions. I don’t like soccer; I don’t watch it more because they have shootouts. Thinking that the NHL would draw more fans with the shootout is a pipe dream at best. Leave the skills competitions where they belong, at the All-Star game. I remember the days when it was exciting to see a penalty shot during a game… not anymore, the novelty has worn off!
I’ll leave the final words to Brian Burke: “I loathe the shootout. I hate it. I detest it. I despise it. I don’t know if I can be any clearer.”
I’d be curious to poll some former BCHL players like Duncan Keith, Chuck Kobasew, Brendan Morrison, Travis Zajac, Ryan Johansen or Kyle Turris to see what they would have to say about the idea.
En français: La fusillade dans la mire des DG