NHL Should Expand Regular Season OT, Ditch SO’s

Jan 12, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson (19) scores the game-winning goal in a shootout on Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) at Verizon Center. The Sabres won 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll state up front that I’ve never been a fan of player shoot-outs deciding regular season NHL games, and in this piece I’ll explain why as well as offer up an alternative.

The first two games of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers are merely the latest in a long string of examples showcasing why nothing in sports is more exciting than overtime hockey.

Now I realize that the NHL can’t have its 30 teams playing 82 games apiece every season each with the potential to end at 2a.m. However that doesn’t mean a compromise can’t be found.

There’s a reason why after an extra inning or two in an MLB game, mangers don’t send their three best hitters out to try and launch baseballs lobbed in by their pitching coaches deep into the bleachers.

And why after NBA overtimes players aren’t trying to alternatively sink uncontested free throws.

Or after an NFL bonus session opposing kickers don’t keep lining up farther and farther back while trying to at least match each other in booting long distance field goals.

The NHL is a team game whose contests are won and lost by line meshing, and line matching. By solid defense and solid defensive pairings. By corralling the right mix of stars, grinders and special team players. And by strong goaltending. All of them correctly put together is what wins games on most nights.

Shoot-outs are merely gimmicks which give teams with more talented skaters an advantage. If a weak squad like Buffalo or Florida battles Pittsburgh hard to a tie for 65 minutes, is it fair to allow the Pens to then trot out Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to take breakaways against any of a half-dozen AHL call-up goalies the Sabres might have started that evening?

The NHL’s in-game penalty shot used to be exciting because it was so rare. It belonged, and had its place. And they were so infrequent that if you heard one called from your kitchen, you’d put your half-made sandwich down and run back into the living room to watch. Now, they’ve been cheapened to the point of, “Eh, I’ll just catch the replay. Now where’s that mustard?”

If the NHL wants to increase penalty shots, that’s cool. Simply update the rules to make them the consequence of more in-game infractions. But they should be dropped for use after overtime.

No one can tell me that it doesn’t take at least as long and at times much longer than five extra minutes to stop the game after OT, so Zambonis can resurface a portion of the ice before anywhere from 5 to 36 skaters try to one-up their adversaries.

So, extend the 4-on-4 overtime to 10 minutes. After that, play 5 minutes of 3-on-3. That should produce a winner most of the time, and if it doesn’t so be it; let the game end in a tie. I know that many will disagree but, hey, that’s their prerogative.

The NHL’s brand of overtime excitement is one of its greatest assets, and it doesn’t make sense for that aspect of the game to be what they choose to partially cast away.

While not necessarily similar in their implementations, NHL shoot-outs aren’t really all that less illogical to rely on than penalty kicks are in deciding hard-fought soccer matches.

It’s beyond time to expand NHL OT and save the shoot-outs for the All Star Game.