March 30, 2005
Shootouts will get a shotPicking of players only debate
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
When the National Hockey League comes back, it will come back with shootouts.
But the form the shootouts will take? No one is quite sure yet.
Even though shootouts have been part of European and international hockey for years, they first attracted serious NHL attention in 1993 when the now-disgraced Michael Eisner of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks -- and the Disney Corporation -- had the matter put on the governors' agenda.
It failed, but a number of the other concepts that were shelved at that meeting -- a draft lottery, a team in Phoenix and NHL expansion -- subsequently came to pass.
Then, as now, the shootout format was not clear. When the NHL general managers meet in Detroit next week, they will try to decide which way they want to go.
In the Olympics, a team submits a list of five shooters. Should the game still be tied after those five have taken their turns, the same five continue to shoot until a winner is determined.
But in the old International Hockey League, which was staging shootouts even before Eisner made his proposal, every non-goalie has to take a shot before anyone gets a second crack.
The advantage of that system is that it can create some off-beat scenarios. Had the shootout concept been in place in the 2000-01 season, for instance, it would have made a good story if Radoslav Suchy, who didn't score in the entire season, managed to pop the winner in a shootout.
Or what about Ken Daneyko, who scored 13 times in 12 season with the New Jersey Devils?
But on the other side of the argument are those who say that fans come to see the stars. They want matchups featuring the best shooters that the league has to offer, not some plodder who handles the puck as if it were a curling rock.
But whatever the format, there is no doubt that the new-age NHL intends to use shootouts to determine a winner if the five-minute overtime doesn't do the job.
The biggest disadvantage to the imposition of a shootout system is that it will upset the purists. To this day, there are Canadian players who insist that they didn't lose that game to the Czechs in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. "We lost the sideshow," they growl.
But if the owners' lockout ever ends, the NHL is going to have to battle to win back its market share, and the shootout should contribute in a number of ways.
First, it keep fans around. If there's a boring game, as is so often the case, the four-a-side overtime is usually exciting, and the prospect of a shootout only adds to the entertainment.
It may mean that hockey becomes like basketball in that the last stages of the game are all that matters, but that's a chance that has to be taken.
Also, the shootout puts an end to tie games, and whether the traditionalists accept it or not, tie games are an anathema to many would-be fans.
In today's sports, fans wants to see winners and losers, not a game that ends without a decision.
Furthermore, and this is a major point, shootouts would be a huge boost for the sport's marketability on television.
Because of the rapaciousness of lawyers, the GMs probably can't insist that players remove their helmets for shootouts. But they'll encourage such a move and make sure it's within the rules.
Now, the TV people can focus on a player's features. The fans will be able to see the look in his eye, the determination in his visage.
Once the shootouts are in place, you can be guaranteed that the promos for hockey on the American networks will feature footage from shootouts.
One way or another, the shootout is coming. The challenge now is to make it as effective as possible.