Hi there Shootout, could you come in here for a second? I think we need to talk. I want to start by saying it’s nothing you’ve done. Let’s face it, Shootout, you were fun and exciting at first and everyone really liked you, but now you’re just a gimmick. I know it’s hard to hear, but like any other gimmick, you’ve run your course. The NHL just no longer needs you. Thank you for the goals, saves and the extra point in the standings, but it’s time to move on. You served your purpose well, but times have changed and we are going in a new direction. Please clean out your desk and drop off your keys at Human Resources on your way out.
I thought this scenario would be easier to accept than breaking up with Shootouts (It’s not you, it’s me. Well…actually it’s 100% you). But, in either case it needs to be done. The NHL must get rid of the Shootout—the sooner, the better.
When the NHL first introduced Shootouts, it was a great and much needed concept. The league was coming off the Dead-Puck era and just missed an entire season due to the Lockout of 2004-05. The NHL was desperate to inject life and excitement back into the game. More goals were needed, and ties were deemed to be a turn-off to all involved. The league decreed no game should end in a tie and after five minutes of four-on-four hockey, the shootout would occur, guaranteeing a winner in every contest. At the time, this was a revelation.
The season before shootouts were instituted, NHL players converted only 32% of penalty shots. The game deciding shootout would actually be a fair fight between the world’s best shooters and goaltenders. Fans loved the competition and the league had created a dramatic ending where none had existed before.
The Dallas Stars loved the concept. Dallas rolled out Mike Modano, Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Zubov to earn easy money and extra points. Jokinen was virtually unstoppable in the skills competition as the Stars won 12 shootouts that first season. Fans couldn’t get enough.
Fast forward to today and the tactics used in a shootout look nothing like they did in 2005. Players have figured out how to stay within the letter of the law and score goals. With no time limit and the only parameter being a player must be moving forward, we have seen players turn the shootout into a farce. At no level of hockey would moving as slow as possible, dusting the puck off at least 15 times, and then shooting ever be a realistic possibility. Pivotal points in the standings are being decided by goals that could never be scored in actual game situations. It’s the same as if the NBA decided to determine victories by a Slam Dunk contest.
The points accumulated through the “skills competition” are having major implications for teams trying to make the playoffs. In 2020-21, the Stars went to a shootout eight times and won twice. They missed the playoffs by 4 points and missed the playoffs in large part because Nashville beat the Stars in all three shootouts between the two teams. Last season, Dallas picked up five extra points by going 5-2. Their biggest shootout win was during the last week of the season against Pete DeBoer’s Vegas squad, a two-point swing that helped Dallas earn a playoff spot instead of the Golden Knights. To have Stanley Cup aspirations determined by this means runs against the code of hockey and needs to end.
How do we fix this? It’s actually easier than you think.
The greatest rule change in a major sport in the last three decades happened before the 2015-16 season when the NHL changed the manpower configuration in overtime to three on three. It’s REAL hockey with passing, shooting, checking, scoring and an opponent trying equally hard to win the game. At moments, it’s frenetic, heart-pounding and best of all, unlike the shootout, games are being decided on the ice under actual in-game conditions. This needs to be the only way regular season games can be determined after 60 minutes of tie hockey.
First, expand the overtime from five to eight minutes. Those three extra minutes, if needed, should be plenty of time to find a way to determine an outcome. For those who worry a longer OT will be too much wear and tear on the league’s best players, that’s why there are 18 players on the bench. NHL coaches make lots of money to make important decisions. How deep on the roster are they willing to go? Are there more players who could excel in pressure situations if given the chance? If you double-shift your top threats, could it bite you later in OT or the regular season? Let’s find out these answers.
Another recent development is the use of soccer-like tactics during the extra frame. Teams are more interested in puck control than trying to attack and win. In yesterday afternoon’s game, Detroit had the puck for 2:36 to begin overtime, yet only took one shot on the Dallas net. Former Stars goalie, Marty Turco had a great idea. He suggested that in OT, make the center ice strip the same as the mid-court line in basketball. Once you carry the puck over, there is no regrouping back to the other half of the ice. Get the puck, cross center ice and attack. If teams lose the zone, there is a smaller area to regroup allowing for the defensive team to be more aggressive, which will lead to high event hockey in OT, which leads to more scoring chances, which will lead to more game winning goals.
Finally, if eight minutes of overtime hockey is played and there are quality chances with neither team scoring, call it a tie and move on with each side getting a hard-earned point. If after 60 minutes of tie hockey and eight minutes of high event action in extra time, there are patrons who are not entertained and satisfied with the outcome, it is their own fault. There is no need to hand out phantom points with real effects on team standings and playoff hopes just to appease a few fans who can’t handle a tie game.
The shootout arrived so long ago, the top show on television at the time was American Idol. These two items have much in common. Both were great ideas in 2006 and both were received with great acclaim. While the exploits of Jussi Jokinen and Kelly Clarkson will live on forever, the platforms that launched their careers have devolved into hackneyed gimmicks, and both need to go away.
Some quick random thoughts:
With five games in eight days, the Stars will call up an extra forward for the upcoming road trip. Don’t be surprised if Riley Tufte gets the chance to join the NHL squad. The 2016 First Round selection has been playing his best hockey during the past few weeks. Tufte is playing a harder, more physical game, using his 6-foot 5-inches, 220-pound frame to his advantage, while posting 16 points in 21 games for the AHL affiliate.
Another reason to abolish the shootout (Yes, I’m still thinking about this) is the plentiful scoring around the league. There is no need for manufactured offense when it is happening on a nightly basis. Per the NHL Stats team: The 6.4 goals-per-game scoring rate is the highest at this stage of a season since 1995-96 (6.4). There are 23 clubs averaging 3.00 goals-per-game or higher (excluding shootout-deciding goals).
Since returning to the starting lineup after a three-game reset, Nils Lundkvist has scored a game tying goal late in the third period vs Ottawa and an OT game winner against Detroit. Unlike his previous NHL experience, the 22-year-old defenseman says communication with the Stars coaching staff made the healthy-scratch situation a positive experience. “It’s very good to know what to expect. It’s a clear page, you don’t need to wonder about anything. You try to stay ready and control what you can control.”
While there has been a lot of talk about the offensive prowess of Stars prospects in junior hockey, the player making the biggest strides this season could be Artem Grushnikov. The blue-liner, taken one spot after Logan Stankoven in the 2021 draft, has become a physical force during his second season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL. Stars brass are impressed with his defensive play and development. Because Grushnikov was drafted from his Russian team before playing in the OHL, he is eligible to move up to the pro ranks when Dallas deems the time to be right. Most expect him to begin next year in Cedar Park, but he could get an AHL preview at the end of this season.
Finally, a World Cup update: In the Finnish Mafia pool, as to which country would fare the best, Miro Heiskanen is the only one who can win it all. Miro picked Argentina while the other members of the group have all seen their selections eliminated. Apparently, Miro is as good at World Cup prognostication as he is at patrolling the Stars blue-line.