PHILADELPHIA -- For the first time in what seems like forever, commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL made a decision that die-hard hockey fans can actually get behind.
The rule change involves the outcome of regular season contests, and while it's not the elimination of the shootout, it as a move that will at least lessen the importance of that aforementioned sideshow.
On Tuesday, an announcement was made revealing that the NHL Board of Governors approved a change to the league's rules concerning postseason tiebreakers. Beginning with the 2010-11 season, the first tiebreaker for clubs deadlocked in the standings will count only regulation and overtime victories, while wins gained in the shootout will be subtracted from the overall total.
This move is obviously designed to encourage teams -- especially those fighting at the end of the season for playoff spots -- to push even harder for a win when the score is tied late in regulation and in overtime. As fans we'd like to assume that our team is always trying like heck to get the go-ahead goal in those situations, but there were times under the previous rules when it would be easier to simply try and last until the shootout, and take your chance at gaining two points that way.
The strategy of playing for a shootout reached its peak last season. Between 2005-06 -- when the shootout was introduced -- and the 2008-09 campaign, the number of games lasting until the controversial and final phase ranged from 145 to 164. However, in 2009-10 that number jumped to an all-time high of 184, and total OT games were up to a post-lockout apex of 301.
After taking into consideration a recommendation from concerned general managers, the NHL went about putting the new plan into action. Of course, many of us would like to see the shootout go away entirely, but in this case the league should be applauded for delivering a compromise that appeals both to the old guard and newer fans alike.
The traditionalists get to see the shootout win lessened in importance and the casual hockey fan, who probably doesn't care enough to have even familiarized themselves with the previous tiebreaker system, can still see shootouts when they occasionally go to the arena or catch a game on TV.
The NHL shootout has been likened to having a free throw contest to decide an NBA game. I've always believed that to be a fair analogy and it helps illustrate the point that the better team on any given night doesn't necessarily win the shootout. Sure, it takes skill to score on a breakaway or for a goaltender to stop one, but there is also a great deal of luck and chance involved.
The change in the tiebreaker system is the first admission by the NHL that shootout wins perhaps aren't the best way for a game to end, although obviously the league would never phrase it that way.
Commissioner Bettman also made sure to throw cold water on the idea that the rule change in anyway signals the beginning of the end for the NHL shootout but a man can dream, can't he?
DUCKS OUTLAST BOBBY RYAN
Bobby Ryan is one of the best young power forwards in the NHL and he fought hard all summer to get the deal he wanted from the Anaheim Ducks. In the end, though, his team wound up winning the battle.
Not that the 23-year-old Ryan made out poorly in a deal that will reportedly pay him $25.5 million over five years, it's just that the length of the contract is longer than a player of his age and skill would like to have.
Ryan, who has scored over 30 goals in each of the last two seasons, has good reason to think that at some point he will out-perform the deal he signed on Tuesday. It was believed that Ryan wanted a three- or four-year contract so he could reach an unrestricted free agent status earlier. Ryan was a restricted free agent this time around, which is all that kept the rest of the league from starting an all-out bidding war for his services.
Under normal circumstances the Ducks probably would have given Ryan a four- year deal, but there were other things to consider ... like the future of Ryan's fellow Anaheim forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf and Perry are scheduled to become UFAs after the 2012-13 season and the Ducks are going to have enough problems keeping both of those players in the fold without having Ryan's contract expire the same offseason.
The Ducks took their time bringing Ryan up through the ranks, and wouldn't risk losing the guy who was taken second overall to Sidney Crosby at the 2005 draft. Anaheim GM Bob Murray always knew he had the upper hand over Ryan due to his RFA status and simply waited for the talented American to cave.
The one thing that makes Ryan look good in this deal is that reports of negotiations revealed that he never tried to force Murray's hand into making him the Ducks' highest-paid player. Perry and Getzlaf still own that distinction with an annual cap hit of $5.325 million. After Tuesday, Ryan's cap number isn't too far off, as he'll now cost the Ducks an average of $5.1 million a year.
DEVILS HIT WITH SANCTIONS FOR KOVALCHUK
In what mercifully appears to be the death rattle for this summer's conflict between the NHL and the New Jersey Devils, the league issued sanctions against the reigning Atlantic Division champs for their attempts to circumvent the salary cap in signing Ilya Kovalchuk.
Of course, the Devils finally had their bid for the superstar winger approved earlier this month, but the NHL still needed to discipline the club for the rejected 17-year, $102 million contract they attempted to sign Kovalchuk to in July.
It was revealed on Monday that New Jersey was fined $3 million and that the club will have to forfeit its third-round draft pick in 2011 as well as a first-round draft pick in one of the next four entry drafts. Lucky for them, the fine will not count against the cap, and the Devils will get to determine in which year they will sacrifice their first-round pick.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello had this to say about the ruling: "We disagree with the decision. We acted in good faith and did nothing wrong. We will have no further comment."
Here's hoping that, like Lou, I will also have no further comment on this particular subject.