Of all the themes that came out of last week’s NHL Research and Development Camp in Toronto, arguably the biggest was the near-rabid anti-shootout sentiment.
Whether it was veteran coach Ken Hitchcock publicly baring his fangs in its direction or GMs and executives privately railing against it, the shootout was Barry Bonds, Dez Bryant and the forever-theoretically-abused redheaded stepchild rolled into one. If the shootout was in place as of 2003, I’m guessing it also would’ve been blamed for the 2004-05 NHL lockout and Jennifer Aniston’s breakup with Brad Pitt.
While I agree with Hitchcock and others when they argue that we’re seeing too many games ended by shootouts, I’ve got a real tough time painting the villain’s evil goatee on the gimmick. (And sure, the shootout is a gimmick – but if we’re outlawing gimmicks, why don’t we also outlaw other “gimmicks” such as HD TV and composite sticks that have changed the way the game is seen and/or enjoyed?)
For one thing, Hitchcock confessed many NHL coaches employ an ultra-conservative on-ice philosophy in 4-on-4 overtime in order to get a tied game to a shootout.
“There’s too many times in our league right now that (coaches) have ways of making sure that we keep the 4-on-4 a non-scoring event so we get into the shootout,” Hitchcock said at the R&D camp. “There’s a lot of work being done on shootout players, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on the shootout, and to me not enough time on that 4-on-4 where you can get the two points.”
Hitchcock’s admission, while fair and admirable, underscores the real problem in the game – the coaches, not the shootout.
Look at the decades-long “war on drugs,” for example; you can demonize the substance itself until you’re blue in the face, but lawmakers focus their efforts on the delivery mechanisms (a.k.a. drug dealers) instead because they understand how the substance gets into the hands of addicts.
The same should go for the shootout. Sure, it’s not the fairest way to settle a game. But it is a practical solution to a sports-entertainment conundrum (i.e. “how do we guarantee attendees of regular season NHL games get out of the building in a timely fashion?”) that won’t ever be solved by coaches primarily interested in (a) winning and (b) holding on to their jobs.
“I can see things down the line – and I see this from a coaching perspective – that coaches are starting to do things now that we could end up stalling (the game) a little bit here if we get our hands on it too much,” Hitchcock said. “A lot of (the R&D camp’s suggestions) take (the game) out of our hands, which is, long term, probably a real good thing.”
Indeed. And that’s why, when it comes to the shootout, you won’t catch me with my fists balled up and pressed into my armpits as I flap my arms around and cluck about the sky falling.
Shootouts may cause some to reach for their rosaries and demand the NHL exorcise itself of this particular demon – but allowing the real agents of evil to remain cozy and in control behind their benches does the game a greater disservice.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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