Alex Stalock was upset on Sunday when a shootout goal by Ryan Johansen was allowed to stand, despite the fact the Wild goalie felt his pad was nudged by Johansen. Devan Dubnyk was upset Tuesday when a shootout goal by Johansen was allowed stand, despite the fact the Wild goalie felt Johansen had come to a stop and thus killed the play.
There is little concern here about Johansen’s two-game winners. What’s upsetting is that Stalock and Dubnyk have to protest at all about this silly format. Once considered (by some) an exciting way to solve the issue of games ending in ties, the shootout is now a tired concept that needs to be retired.
Growing up watching the NHL, one of the most exciting things in hockey was seeing a player awarded a penalty shot. It was rare and, thus, a treat to watch a skater go one-on-one against the goalie as everyone in the arena held their breath.
But, like with almost everything that seems like a good idea in moderation, the NHL figured out a way to take the penalty shot and make it an overexposed, eye-rolling experience. The shootout was adopted in 2005-06 and fans, especially in the United States, did seem to enjoy it at first.
Skaters developed moves to try to fool goaltenders and some extremely skilled players, and some who were not so skilled, scored highlight-reel goals. But using the shootout as a way to decide who got the extra point was (and is) akin to deciding a baseball game with a home run derby or a basketball game with a slam dunk contest.
The NHL moved toward trying to cut down on the number of shootouts starting with the 2015-16 season, when the five-minute overtime period was changed so that instead of playing four-skaters per side it was three on each side.
There were complaints that three-on-three isn’t real hockey, but those complaints should be ignored. Three-on-three is an exciting version of the game that resembles the game guys might have played on the pond as kids. Possession is key and the fastest, and most skilled players, have the ability to make great plays that often involve their teammates.
And that’s the difference.
The shootout has nothing to do with the team. The three-on-three on format might not be the five-on-five that’s played for 60 minutes but it still resembles the game of hockey.
So what’s the answer?
Simple. As has been suggested by many, the NHL should extend overtimes to 10 minutes of three-on-three. That’s plenty of time to get a goal in that wide-open format and, if it doesn’t happen, the game ends in a, gasp, tie and each team gets a point.
It’s been done before and it isn’t the end of the world. The current NHL points system — where points are awarded like candy — is only in place to attempt to create playoff races with teams that have no business being in the postseason picture. The NHL isn’t going to abandon this — with no ties the league could go to winning percentage — so what’s the damage in the occasional tie? There would still be plenty of teams getting plenty of points.
After the Wild’s loss in Nashville on Tuesday, Dubnyk said: “I don’t mind shootouts. But if you want some example of why maybe not, there’s one. That’s two games in a row. It’s a mockery. We’re trying to make the playoffs.”
Part of that process should never again involve having to play a game that ends with a shootout.