Shootouts suck. I don't think many people argue otherwise. They award a point to a team on what is typically just chance often leaving a few teams left in the playoff picture that probably don't belong there. Yes, there is skill involved. T.J. Oshie is a shootout wizard and a hot goalie can stone even an offensive powerhouse, but for every game that is decided by an amazing Patrick Kane deke or an lighting-fast Jonathan Quick save there is another one decided by a shooter missing the net or losing control of the puck. It sucks, and it is not how a Big Four sports league should award points in their standings.
But the NHL still needs to decide who wins games. Ties suck too. It's easy now that we haven't had one in almost ten years to complain about Bettman Points and how at least ties had integrity, but for fans watching on TV and especially fans paying to go to games tie games were The Worst.
I grew up going to Flyers games, but grew up and live near Hershey, PA. If there is no traffic going to a game I could be there in an hour and a half, but let's face it, there is always traffic. I always allot at least two and a half hours to get there, often three. It's not unusual for me to leave at 3:30 to go to a 7:00 game so I have time to have a beer or seven before as well as get something to eat. Games average two hours and it's usually another two to get home, so that's a total of 8 hours. It's a big commitment in time, and as you may have noticed hockey games are not cheap to attend either.
Anytime you invest the better part of a day's time and a day's-work-worth of money to go somewhere you have a strong emotional investment too. If your team wins you're high as a kite. If they lose, or the refs blow a call or the other team lays one of Your Guys out with a big hit you get angry and hope they can turn it around next time.
When you go to a game and it's a tie you leave feeling disappointed, especially as a child. Getting kids hooked on a sport is after all how sports maintain and grow their fan base, so it's not something to overlook.
Kids love shootouts. They're flashy. All the big stars get involved. You get to hear the goal horn. It can be very exciting. I think as kids grow up and start appreciating the game more that excitement goes away and they realize it's a gimmick, but the question has to be asked: without the shootout, how many of them wouldn't still be hockey fans? One of the games I went to as a kid was a 1-1 tie game between the Lindros-era Flyers and the Habs, and I vividly remember thinking what a waste of a game it was that it ended in a tie. It does take away from your desire to go to another game, or even to stay home and turn on the TV.
So what do we do? Overtimes are already 4-on-4. 3-on-3 is as much of a gimmick as the shootout. Neither the owners or the NHLPA or the TV networks would accept unlimited overtime played until somebody scores like in the playoffs, for a myriad of obvious reasons.
How about this.
College football overtimes give each team the ball in scoring position once per period. A team can fail to score, kick a field goal, or score a touchdown. If the score remains tied after the first overtime "period" it goes on to the next until it is no longer tied.
How about doing the same thing in hockey with power-plays. Each team gets two minutes of 5-on-4 man advantage starting with an offensive-zone draw per "period". If both teams score or fail to score it goes to another period, except this one could be 5-on-3. A short-handed goal ends game immediately. If a defending team takes a penalty the attacking team gets an additional man in the box just like normal. If an attacking team takes a penalty they lose their man advantage, unless the penalty would result in a penalty shot, which would occur as usual. There would be no even-strength play.
This format would guarantee a winner of the game while still having it decided by something that at least resembles normal play. The team that scored the last goal would get the first opportunity, as this would encourage come-from-behind wins. If there was no goal scored at all, well... we could figure something out. There would be short rest periods between each power play.
While this format would take longer than shootouts, it would still end the game in a timely fashion and would regain some integrity for the results and the standings. Since the ice would not need to be resurfaced as it does prior to a shootout, some time would be made up there. The more skilled, better-prepared team would win more often, which is how it should be. Strategy would be important, as coaches would have to decide whether to play their top-teir players on the PK and risk having them gassed if they're needed for another round on the PP. Teams with better scoring-depth would benefit as well if the game goes multiple periods.
It's not perfect, but I don't think it sucks. What do you think?