SUN Hockey Pool

The NHL isn't going to take away the shootout

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

Even though purists don't like it, the shootout is here to stay. And if that's the case, then perhaps it is time to give it a closer look -- maybe even some tinkering.

There's no doubt that the concept was instituted to appease Americans. It seems that surveys revealed their overwhelming opposition to games that ended in ties.

Realistically, the National Hockey League had no option other than a shootout. Given today's frequency of scoring, unlimited overtime could become just that.

And it must be conceded that the shootouts have proved to be extremely popular, even in Canada. As for the United States, it not uncommon for the few fans in the building to stand during the overtime in anticipation of a shootout.

The shootout's first season posed few problems. A quick rule modification had to be introduced to allow video replays, but other than that, the shootouts proceeded smoothly.

But now that shootouts are established and clearly here to stay, the expected response is evolving. Coaches and players are pushing the rules to the limit.

Last week, the Minnesota Wild's Pierre-Marc Bouchard beat the Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout with a goal that probably should have been disallowed. He roared in on Nik Khabibulin, did a 180-degree turn at the edge of the crease then backhanded the puck into the net.

First of all, he interfered with Khabibulin, who had no chance to react with Bouchard leaning on him.

Secondly, the rules require a shooter to keep the puck moving in the direction of the net. When he turned his back to the net, in order to get sufficient leverage, Bouchard had to sweep the puck. To do so, he had to move it in a direction away from the goal.

The problem with applying this technical analysis is that the goal was a beauty. And highly creative.

It's what fans want to see, but the fact remains that it's technically illegal. That's why the rule needs some tinkering.

The rule should make it clear that if the forward contacts the goalie, then the goal does not count. Bouchard can make his move, but he has to do it sooner. Conversely, the goalie has to be in the crease for that provision to come into effect.

Also, the rule-makers should find a way to allow some backward movement of the puck. Nobody want to see the skater going around in circles until he's ready to shoot, but a move like Bouchard's is so entertaining that it has to be allowed.

And it's only a matter of time until a forward decides to flip the puck up onto the blade of his stick, carry it that way and shoot it lacrosse-style into the net.

Lots of today's players can make that move with ease and at the moment, there's nothing in the rules to prevent someone using it in a shootout. The only reason that no one has done so yet is the uncertainty. Every shooter believes he can beat the goalie, so he doesn't want to take a chance with an innovation that has no precedent and might be ruled illegal.

While they're having their think-tank, the rules-makers might want to consider another option or two. Perhaps, to allow defencemen to become more frequent participants, a team might be allowed the option of taking one static shot, much like a penalty shot in soccer.

The puck is placed on the ice and the defenceman skates up and gets one whack. The hash marks would be too close and the blue line would be too far away. The league's hockey people could work out what's ideal and then the lawyers could tell them whether they will allow it.

In a related rule, perhaps the goalie should have to keep one foot on the goal line until the shooter picks up the puck at centre ice. That's the rule in international hockey.

Or perhaps, since the shootout is so popular, there should be five shooters.

Whatever variations the league wants to impose, the shootout will remain popular. But in order to stop controversy before it happens, the rules need to be clarified.


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