NHL Hypocrisy: Why No Love for Shootouts Down the Stretch?

Most of my readers know my thoughts on shootouts, how I feel that they are a stain on the sport of hockey and do nothing but add parity to the league, regardless of their entertainment value. They were added solely for the casual fan, to get he or she interested after the lockout. There was only one problem with that sentiment; there are no casual hockey fans. Shootouts are not real hockey, because they turn a team game for 65 minutes into an individual skills competition, where the win rests on the shoulders of a single individual. But as much as hockey purists complain, they are still part of the game, right? This is true, but how come shootout wins now do not factor in as part of a tie-breaker when deciding who has the advantage between two teams that are locked up?

It was a few weeks ago that I noticed a new stat had been added to the standings column, which read, “ROW”. These three letters stand for “Regulation/Overtime Wins”, meaning every win a team has that did not come in the shootout. In a way I was happy, because I don’t think shootouts should even be in the sport, much less factor in to deciding if a team makes or misses the playoffs. To people that love the shootout, I always said just wait until it’s the last day of the season, and your team misses the playoffs because one of your players flubs a shot. Lo and behold, I had that pleasure last April, in a game between the Rangers and Flyers where the latter eliminated the former on the final day of the season. After the game, a friend of mine, a Flyers fan, told me I was right, and that it was unfair that the entire Rangers season came down to a breakaway between Olli Jokinen and Brian Boucher.

So I pose this question: if the NHL loves shootouts so damn bad, why don’t the wins count as a possible tiebreaker? Why do we have to add another stat to the column? Is it because the league knows this is just a gimmick and knows it should not affect a team’s chances coming down to the wire? It is absolutely ridiculous. Either they have to count the same way as regulation wins or they should be removed from the sport entirely. Contrary to revisionist history of the last few years, there never were that many complaints about games ending in ties. A hard-fought battle between to teams ended in a stalemate, and one could leave the arena knowing that your favorite team tried their best and did not lose.

Then of course, we change the rules yet again for the playoffs. Why aren’t there any shootouts in playoff games? Wouldn’t that be exciting? Wouldn’t that be intense? Wouldn’t that be the final straw in me not watching hockey any more? You better believe it. But again, the point I am trying to make is, if the NHL is so enamored with this skills competition, why can’t we see them in the post-season? Imagine a Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals coming down to a shootout. Imagine how the player involved on the losing team would feel. Imagine the pressure. On the other hand, imagine the excitement coming from all five casual hockey fans out there.

I am really hoping something will change in the seasons to come regarding how games are ended. In a way, I would not be so apprehensive in accepting shootouts if a point was not given to the loser (but the same can be said for OT losses). The NHL is the only professional sports team in North America to award the loser—it’s sort of like a consolation prize in a youth sports league, where everyone has to get a trophy to prevent kids from crying. Even when there were ties in hockey, there were still four decision stats that a team could be. For example, in 2003/04, the Rangers finished with a 27-40-7-8 record. Why don’t we tack on even more? Maybe daytime wins should be their own separate category. I distinctly remember a friend telling me, “Roger Neilson is probably rolling over in his grave”.

In other words, go back to the ties, and let overtime losses count as real losses, with no point given to the loser. If the NHL won’t recognize their brilliant little brain child now, in the most important time of the season, then why have it at all?

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