Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fixing the Shootout

I actually wrote this without posting it back in November, but with the GMs currently meeting and discussing ways to potentially fix the shootout I decided to take it back out, tweak it, and post it after all.

Some people love the shootout. Some people hate it. Some people wonder what was so wrong with ties.

As for me, I'm still not quite sure why losing in a skills competition is worth exactly the same in the standings as losing in overtime or where that third point is even coming from (A hockey game is worth two standings points, if you win you get both of them, in a tie the two points were equally divided between the two teams; how does a third point materialize where none previously existed? But I digress.)

Based on the facts that the GMs have been discussing adding a 3-on-3 overtime session to reduce the number of shootouts and that there has been a vocal minority of NHL media and fans (mainly media) clamoring against the shootout ever since its inception after Lockout 2, I think it's fair to say that this institution could at least use some tweaking. For my suggestion, read on.

A fair argument against the shootout has always been that hockey games, matches between two groups of 20 men, should not be decided by as few as 6 players (the two goalies plus two shooters from each side if one team leads 2-0 after two innings).

This got me thinking, what can be done about that. And the solution I came up with is to involve more players in the shootout.

Whoever said a shootout has to just be a series of breakaways?

My suggestion then is to change the shootout from a series of breakaways to a series of outnumbered attacks.

First Inning: 3-on-1 attack. Three skaters against one defensive player and the goalie.

Second inning: 2-on-1 attack. Two skaters alone against a single defenseman and the goalie.

Third inning: the standard shootout penalty shot

Under this regimen, instead of utilizing only 3 players out of the 18 dressed, teams would be using 8 (of course, no one can go twice during this shootout, the same as the current rules).

I think one of the most appalling things about the shootout is that it is almost exclusively the domain of forwards. Defensemen are an absolutely integral part of the game, but rarely get the opportunity to skate after overtime. Why not incorporate players who are clearly members of the team in deciding what would otherwise be tied games?

Defensemen would almost always get to be involved, whether playing the back end of the outnumbered attacks or getting to occasionally be part of the offense.

Right now when it goes to the shootout it's pretty obvious which three players are going to shoot, but if a coach had to choose six different skaters to go out in different combinations and then two defensemen (or maybe really good defensive forwards), what interesting dilemmas coaches would face? Does Ovechkin go out by himself for the breakaway or skate with Backstrom on a two-on-one where everyone in the building knows who's shooting? Does Doughty skate defensively or jump up into one of the attacking units? Would Boston rather use Chara to stop one of the attacks or for his big blast on a 3-on-1?

It would be just delicious to see what coaches would try.

Perhaps it would be up to the coaches what order the different outnumbered attacks take place, so the crowd isn't always seeing the same thing.

And going along with my last point, rather than always seeing the same three forwards every shootout, we would get to see a lot more interesting combinations and more players getting involved in these decisive skills competitions.

Argument Against
Yes, it's still just a skills competition, but more players are at least involved. We would see more hockey plays in executing and defending outnumbered attacks. And whereas currently we only get to watch offensive moves and goaltending, this would allow us to see some potential great defensive plays as well.

As for the IIHF rule where one player can keep shooting multiple times, I'm not a fan. It limits the number of players deciding the outcome even more than an NHL shootout. And for all the hoopla that surrounded T.J. Oshie in Sochi, if that kind of thing was happening on a regular basis in the NHL, the novelty would wear off quickly just like it has with the standard shootout. It was exciting for 2 reasons, the first being that USA-Russia is always exciting anyway, but the more important reason was that no one had ever seen anything like it. Nobody would have been talking about that if it happened twice a night in the NHL.

What do you think? I wanna hear from you guys in the comments!

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