Broadcast Blog: The Shootout Situation

Monday, 03.10.14 / 3:05 PM
By admin

On Saturday, the Thunder lost their sixth shootout game of the season to the Utah Grizzlies. The Thunder scored once in the shootout while Utah struck three times to walk away with the extra point. It was important as the win helped keep them ahead of the Idaho Steelheads in the Western Conference standings.

Shootouts have been a point of frustration for the Thunder all season long as the team has gone just 2-6 in what is often dubbed the “skills competition.” The team started the year with four straight shootout losses before winning one in Utah on January 10th followed by another victory eight days later against Bakersfield.

However, that brief period of success has since been replaced by two more defeats in the shootout. Thunder Head Coach Rich Kromm has never been a huge advocate of using the shootout, an individual skills competition, to decide who wins a team game. Here are some of the quotes we’ve had from him regarding the shootout this season.

The Thunder have scored on just 8 of 44 shootout attempts this year.

“It’s frustrating as our goaltenders have played really well in the shootout. We just need to find ways to score goals. Shootouts are a part of the game now and we have to understand that there are extra points up for grabs.” – Kromm, 12/20 after 3-2 shootout loss to Ontario.

“It’s nice when you win them. It’s a funny way to determine the outcome of a game, but I think it’s certainly nice when you do win. We’re starting to get some confidence in the shootouts.” – Kromm, 1/18 after 4-3 shootout win over Bakersfield.

“I’ve never liked the shootout. It’s not a good way to end a hockey game, I don’t think. I’d rather see us keep playing overtime or end in a tie, but it’s good for the fans.” – Kromm, 3/8 after 3-2 shootout loss to Utah.

Coach Kromm isn’t the only one frustrated with the shootout. Ever since its introduction into the NHL in 2005-06 as a way to increase excitement for the fans and abolish ties, the shootout has been a hot-button topic. Issues about it have mostly involved too many games going to the shootout, the shootout having too large an impact on the playoff race, and coaches playing too defensively in overtime to either purposely or subconsciously get to the shootout where luck plays a bigger part in determining the winner.

Today, Monday, the NHL’s General Managers begin their annual March meetings, set to last three days, to discuss potential changes to the NHL’s overtime rules. The discussion was tabled during the November meetings, but expect every pundit or guy associated with hockey who has a blog (hey, I’m in that group!) to weigh in on the issue about what will save our sport from the dreaded shootout.

Maybe the WHA had some good ideas after all.

There are several ideas being tossed around about potential changes. The first is increasing the length of overtime. Right now, hockey teams in the NHL, AHL and ECHL play a five-minute sudden death overtime period in the regular season. That’s how it’s always been since 1983-84 when overtime was re-introduced to the NHL. However, this wouldn’t be the first time that longer overtimes were used. The old World Hockey Association used 10 minute overtime periods, something the NHL also did back in the days before World War II.

The longer overtime would naturally lead to more chances to score, but it could also have some side effects. Sometimes goaltenders are just hot or defenses get the better of the game and a goal isn’t going to be scored that easily. If the NHL were to start having overtime games that last longer, even just five minutes longer, it could have an impact on tiring players out more over the course of a very busy, game-packed NHL schedule.

One of the other main issues, and honestly probably the one the NHL would be paying more attention to, is any ramifications a longer overtime would have for TV broadcasts where any extra, unplanned time in sporting events can cause programming issues with other events or TV shows that follow the hockey game.

Plus, you can’t discount the impact on fans. School nights and work days might not play as big an impact on NHL games where you wouldn’t expect fans paying that a high a price for tickets to be worried about leaving early, but at the minor league level it could be an issue.

Another option the NHL GMs are discussing is adding a three-on-three element to OT. Possibly, after the five minutes of four-on-four are up, it would drop down to three-on-three for another five-minute session in an effort to find an overtime winner.

Three-on-three hockey rarely ever happens in regulation. Think what that would require, two penalties against two players from both teams in the span of less than two minutes. It would be very fast-paced though and would have a good chance of causing a goal. In three-on-three all it takes is one player losing his man, or one guy being caught behind the play, and just like that it’s an odd-man rush.

This game was pretty awesome.

In terms of a way to settle a game, it’s not that different in terms of the arguments used by “hockey purists” that shootouts aren’t a real part of the game. Most of my experience with three-on-three hockey comes from the old gem of a video game, 2002’s NHL Hitz where the entire game was three-on-three, players caught fire and got zapped by lightning if they scored enough goals and equipment was strewn all over the ice whenever someone got hit hard enough.

Obviously you wouldn’t have to worry about those kinds of extreme measures but the number of offensive chances creating in three-on-three overtime probably wouldn’t be that different from the absurd video game.

The third main topic of discussion is a smaller, simpler measure… having the teams switch ends before the start of overtime. This would mean that both teams would have long changes like they do during the second period of each game.

For the casual hockey fans a long change is when the teams are defending the end of the ice that is farthest from their bench. When teams defend that side of the rink it creates problems when defensemen have to get to center ice in order to change. If the other team gets possession of the puck while the defense is changing it can lead to odd-man rushes.

This would be a slight change to OT rules that could lead to an increase in scoring chances in overtime. The NCAA, for instance, already has this rule in place for college hockey games. However, the change would probably be minimal since most line changes during overtime are done during stoppages in play.

Any of these potential changes would go into effect in the offseason after a process of being submitted to the Competition Committee, which meets in June after the Stanley Cup Final. Notice though that none of these options include getting rid of the shootout, they all involve ways of trying to increase the chances of having the game end in overtime. That demonstrates that the shootout is here to stay.

Additionally, even if changes were made to the NHL rules it doesn’t necessarily mean they would be changed for minor leagues like the AHL and ECHL. In fact, often times the AHL and ECHL have used different rules from the NHL as a test pilot. Different rules from the AHL have even been the catalyst for changes made in the NHL. For example, the change to the overtime rules to make it four-on-four instead of five-on-five was originally something done by the AHL in 1998, with the NHL following suit the next season.

But do the rules really need changing? Looking at the data since the shootout was adopted in 2005-06 shows that shootouts aren’t happening as often as some people think.

I'm guessing Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk doesn't want the shootout to go away.

To start with, let’s go back to the 2003-04 season, the last year where the NHL had ties. That season 13.8% of games, in raw numbers 170 of 1,230 games, ended in a tie. In the eight seasons since the shootout has been implemented, only twice has there been a higher percentage of games going to the shootout than that number of 13.8%, in 2009-10 (15.0%) and 2011-12 (14.7%). Both of those seasons are the only years where the percentage of overtime games that ended in a shootout rather than in OT has been higher than 60%.

What does that mean? Well, if you consider that every game that goes to a shootout would have ended in a tie under the NHL’s old rules, the data shows there really isn’t any difference in how games are decided. So those fears that coaches are playing defensive-minded hockey, trying to avoid losing in overtime rather than winning, are unfounded. When you consider that the shootout was added to have games end in a more exciting way than a tie, it’s just its job.

For more discussion on this point, check out the excellent articles done over at SportingCharts.com.

For the Thunder this season, 8 out of 55 games (14.5%) have gone to the shootout. As of today, March 10th, the ECHL has had 76 off its 622 games end in a shootout, which comes out to 12.2%. So the Thunder are a little above average, but not that many contests are being decided this way, at least not more than in the NHL.

Personally, I’ve never had a huge problem with the overtime rules regardless of which model, before or after the 2004-05 lockout, is used. As an avid soccer fan I see the good points of a tie when two teams battle each other, but prove evenly matched with neither really deserving to lose. On the other hand, I also understand the fan perspective where a tie seems like an unfulfilling end when sports are all about winning and losing.

However, as we’ve seen, sports are a constantly fluctuating thing with changes to the rules being made almost every season, even if they’re just small ones. Should hockey decide to experiment with three-on-three overtime or anything else, I think it would be worth at least keeping an open mind. You never know when a change could be the key to making this sport we love that much better.

Call of the Day

Similar to my counterpart Mr. Brandon Kisker’s way of signing off blogs with a favorite jersey choice of his, I’ve decided to finish my broadcast blog entries with a favorite hockey call of mine from the many great broadcasters over the years.

I’ll start with one of my all-time favorites, which comes to us from game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final when the Anaheim Mighty Ducks needed a win to force a game 7 against the New Jersey Devils. Mighty Ducks captain Paul Kariya was drilled by Devils defenseman Scott Stevens in the second period on the kind of play that would have earned him a very long suspension in today’s NHL.

Kariya was knocked unconscious as Stevens blindsided him on the dirty play, but courageously returned to the game scoring this goal that helped his team defeat the Devils and keep the series going. Gary Thorne had the call.