December 8, 2010

Shootouts in Hockey Are A-OK, as long as Firearms Aren't Involved

Sports-reporter Michael Farber's declaration of love for the shootout in hockey (link here) couldn't have aired on a better night. Mere hours after he warmed hockey fans' hearts on Tuesday with memories of then-New York Rangers defenseman Marek Malik's 15-round shootout-winner a half-decade ago, the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers were melting the ice at Rexall Place with a 10-rounder of their own. And, truth be told, it was so exciting it pulled me away from my nightly dose of Comedy Central's own unique brand of medication long enough to realize that, while not a cure-all, the shootout has done its job in the NHL's post-lockout era well enough to divert attention away from the game's more unsightly problems. Here is yesterday's in all its 14-minute glory:

Of course the stand-alone game was exciting in its own right, but the fourth and fifth frames were simply incredible. At one point, you had to wonder if the zamboni was going to come out again to resurface that one wide streak in the middle of the ice. The action was so hot, one could have easily imagined goalie Nikolai Khabibulin as a supermodel under all those layers of equipment and mask... given enough alcohol, that is, and a car in which to DUI. He was impressive, is all I'm trying to say. 

After he made that toe save on Corey Perry in round three, it really was as if he was in a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey once again making that kick save on then-Calgary Flame Jordan Leopold in the dying minutes of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. Of course, reality eventually set in that he's an over-the-hill, overpaid, and overworked soon-to-be retiree, but for a few seconds there... WOW. And they say time travel hasn't been invented yet.

As Farber points out, the shootout's detractors say that it's merely a skills competition. Seeing as that's the one part of All-Star Weekend anybody actually likes watching, so what? And in theory isn't the most skilled team supposed to win every night? There's no harm in deciding a game in entertaining fashion just as there wasn't when teams used to take turns faking entry into the offensive zone before the lockout and made a conscious effort to try and play to a standstill, lest they give up two points instead of one. Now they have no choice but to try and score.

To those that ask ignorantly "if the shootout isn't good enough for the postseason, why is it alright from October to April," the same argument holds. Playoff hockey is already entertaining. Even if it's 2 a.m., you need to get up in four hours, and the game isn't yet out of its fifth intermission, you're not going to pull away from your television set and are going to risk having to pull out a six-pack of Red Bull at work the next day - every other hour - to make sure not to fall asleep. Now, you will most certainly bomb that presentation for which you were supposed to be preparing instead of watching the game, but you'll have no regrets, for you'll have just witnessed one hell of a game the night before.

And to those very same purists that believe the shootout isn't fit for hockey at all because the NHL doesn't deem it fit for the playoffs, look at the logic of your argument. There's just as much of a case to be made for shootouts in the playoffs as there is for never-ending overtimes in the regular season. No one deems those fit for games in October... yet.

In essence, the tie can be construed as a gimmick itself, an ingenious way for sports leagues to allow games to end before a resolution to prevent wear and tear on their players. Baseball doesn't allow for ties. Hockey in theory needn't either. And, yet, purists tend to cling to the belief that just because there had been ties since before the dawn of time, the formula can't be improved upon. Not to mention comparing regular and postseason games is like comparing apples and oranges. Through 82 games last year, the Montreal Canadiens were mediocre. In 19 playoff games, well... they were still mediocre, but they put on an awesome performance that couldn't have been replicated the length of one regular-season schedule.

Gimmicks either fall flat or serve their purpose, and the shootout has done its part in bringing back some fan attention to the game. It's strange that all those that have vilified it for being a gimmick haven't even looked in the direction of the Winter Classic, which is as much a gimmick for hockey as his toupee is for Donald Trump.

"No gimmick here... just a goalie wearing a tuque in the middle of a football stadium skating in a pile of snow."
All things taken into account, it's likely that the shootout is here to stay, unless, as Farber points out, Detroit Red Wings general-manager Ken Holland and company are able to convince the league to take another route. But, if it ain't broke, don't try and fix it. Instead focus your attention on other things, like, just a thought, poor attendance below the Sun Belt or in New York where the Islanders are making a case for Long Island to become the next Atlantis: sunk and to be forgotten, minus the advanced intelligence of the Lost City's braintrust.

How about shots to the head, or the implementation of no-touch icing, or permanently banning Jose Theodore from ever donning the pads again? Really there are dozens of issues that should be tackled before the topic of the shootout is even grazed as a topic for debate.

Unlike Farber, I'm not addicted to shootouts, but I am rational and unbiased enough to know that they should not be taken out of the game. If they eventually are it would represent yet another example of the huge disconnect between the league and its fans. Truth be told, it's a minor miracle more haven't gone at least little a postal by now.

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