Off The Draw
Could this be the beginning of the end of the shootout?
The NHL’s extra time format is expected to be the main point of discussion when general managers gather today in Boca Raton, Fla., for the start of their annual spring meetings. And based on preliminary buzz, changes are coming.
Opponents of the shootout have closely monitored the American Hockey League’s season-long experiment with expanded overtime. Hockey’s top minor league implemented a new approach that features up to seven minutes of extra time, starting at four-on-four, then switching to three-on-three upon the first whistle after three minutes of play.
So far, NHL observers like what they see. According to data provided by the AHL, only 5.6% percent of games (through March 3) have required the shootout, down significantly from 15.6% last season.
That’s music to the ears of those who would like to see fewer games decided by the shootout, aka the skills competition. Nearly 14% of NHL games through March 3 this season had gone to a shootout, up from 11.8% in 2005–06, the year it was introduced.
More concerning than the increase in the number of games decided by shootouts, though, is the number of OT games that get extended by skills competitions. Nearly 57% of games that go to extra time wind up being decided by shootouts.
Not everyone is sold on three-on-three hockey as the solution it this problem. After all, there are fewer instances of three-on-three in “real” hockey than there are penalty shots, so it’s arguably more gimmicky than the shootout. There also are concerns about the addition of more playing time to an already taxing schedule, especially for top players.
And as many hockey people have said, the real problem isn’t the shootout. It’s the awarding of the loser point.
While that’s not up for debate with the GMs, it’s possible that we could see some movement on overtime. It’s also worth noting that before any rules changes are approved, they must go to both the joint NHL–NHLPA competition committee and the Board of Governors. Adoption before next season is no sure thing.
Among other topics of discussion at this week’s meetings will be the use of video replay to enforce goaltender interference penalties. The big question isn’t whether it should be done, or how it will be done (either by referees using monitors in the penalty box or by league officials in Toronto), but how the rule should be applied. At this point, there is a lot of grey area in the wording of Rule 69. Supporters of video replay might need to tighten up the guidelines before putting them under enhanced video scrutiny.
Another topic of discussion will be how best to address a situation like the one we saw in Florida recently, when Panthers goalies Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya were forced out of a game by injuries. The protocols for dressing an emergency backup may be streamlined, and a provision may be put in place that will allow teams to designate an extra goaltender for every game.
Much like having a doctor near the bench, a third goalie is a precaution that a team may never have to use ... but if the need ever arises, they’ll be glad he’s there.
• Andrew Hammond had a whirlwind weekend: the Islanders’ Johnny Boychuk broke the Hamburglar’s mask with a rocker of a shot on Friday, but the goalie recovered in time to share a burger with a Senators fan.
• Terrific piece here from Rick Westhead, who speculates on NHL participation if the Olympics are awarded to Beijing in 2022, and the impact that would have on the growth of the game in China.
• Dan Robson offers a solid take on the relationship between Joe Thornton and the Sharks before last week’s epic rupture.
• Dan Rosen considers 15 important questions that are yet to be answered with only 200 games remaining on the NHL schedule.