When the National Hockey League first instituted the shootout coming out of the lockout in 2005-06, immediately there was a line drawn in the sand. To one side were those in favor of an ending more satisfying than a tie and to the other, those who labeled the shootout a gimmicky, “skills competition”.
From the start it was obvious that I was in that first group. I was enthralled by the individual show of skill. I wasn’t alone. The other 18,198 people in Madison Square Garden seemed equally riveted, standing unprompted, and remaining that way throughout.
The shootout shone a rare spotlight on individual talent. Without it, would we have gotten to see so many variations on the Datsyukian Deke?
Would we know just how “cheeky” Mike Ribiero is?
Would anyone have guessed that Marek Malik—not an offensive force, he—not only has incredible hands, but an excellent sense of humor as well?
I watched that last move in my bedroom during Thanksgiving break because, like a complete fool, I turned down tickets to that Rangers-Capitals game. Regret aside, I remember leaping out of my seat twice when unexpected Rangers like Ville Nieminen and Jason Strudwick kept New York alive in the late rounds, setting up Malik’s unforgettable tally.
None of these highlights—or the dozens more like them—would exist without the shootout. However, with shootout wins no longer part of the first tiebreaker in the standings, and large parts of this past week’s NHL’s Research and Development Camp aimed at ending more games in overtime, the League has taken several steps toward diminishing the importance of shootouts.
While I understand valuing team play over that of the individual, the NHL should also realize how the shootout has helped sell its game. It takes the incredible skill of hockey players and puts it into a neat, Sportscenter-friendly package.
I can get behind more games ending in overtime if only because it will impart more drama and significance onto the penalty shots that follow. While fewer shootouts can be a positive thing, if these are the first steps on the road to eliminating them altogether, then there’s been another line drawn, and again, I’m on the other side of it.