At some point early in this coming season, the NHL will record its 10,000th shot in the shootout. We can predict with a high degree of certainty two things that will not happen on that shot. First, it will not be a spin-o-rama. Second, the guy taking it probably won’t score.
The NHL guaranteed the former by banning the spin-o-rama on the shootout when it passed a flurry of new rules for the 2014-15 season. The latter is backed up by statistics that prove the shootout is anything but a skills competition. As Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman once told me, it has become a goaltending competition. With an all-time success rate of just 32.8 percent, shooters aren’t exactly forcing goaltenders to reach to the back of the net for the puck.
And that’s why the shootout should be banned. Nine years ago, it was introduced as part of the new, fan friendly NHL that was eager to win fans back after locking its players out for a year and making the game more exciting after locking its forwards out of the scoring areas. The league needn’t have worried on the first count. Fans came back stronger than ever, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the NHL will always have its crazed legion of fans in spite of how much those in power damage the game.
The biggest problem with the shootout is not that it’s perceived to be a bad way to win or lose a game or that it affects the standings, it’s that the shootout was supposed to be an entertainment spectacle that isn’t terribly entertaining anymore. And by banning the spin-o-rama the league has sought to cut the shootout down at the knees even more.
What’s happened with the shootout is the law of unintended consequences. When the league introduced it in 2005, nobody seemed to foresee that it was actually going to have an effect on the standings, that by giving teams that win a shootout two points and teams that lose it one point was going to skew playoff races and become a determining factor. And the same league that until recently had teams that employed a no-skill mouth breather for the exclusive purpose of beating people up feared it would have to introduce a new breed of player – the shootout specialist.
So, the league, as it often does, set about to tinkering with things. First, it made regulation and overtime wins the deciding factor in ties in the standings. Now it’s banning a move that only a minority of players can execute because it takes speed and skill because it gives them an unfair advantage. But isn’t that supposed to be the point of the shootout? Isn’t it supposed to give players and teams that have skill an advantage? If not, what’s the point of even having it?
Personally, I could live with ties. And I used to like the shootout. I have no horse in this race. But if the league is going to blunt the impact of the shootout more and more, then it might as well ban it altogether. Either that or keep it and live with its imperfections.
Because by trying to please everyone, the NHL is doing exactly the opposite. It took something that some people liked and a lot of people didn’t and made it into something that almost nobody likes anymore. It has become an annoyance and a distraction. There is no shame in admitting something you tried has run its course. And that’s where we are with the shootout. Please, NHL, don’t let this bastardized version of something good get to 20,000 shots. We’ve all seen enough.