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A Simple Solution To The NHL's Shootout Problem

Solving the NHL's shootout problem seems pretty simple. Yes, part of the solution involves ties.

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The biggest complaint that was filed in regards to last Friday's Morning Skate was a simply fair one: If you're going to complain about how horrible shootouts are, you have to present some sort of solution. We all agree that ties suck, and shootouts are the best solution we have to rid the sport of ties. 

Well, on that first notion: I don't hate ties. I love a 0-0 goalie duel just as much as a 6-5 game of pond hockey. I can watch either type of game and be just as excited. I don't think the final score or even the final outcome of a game dictates the excitement of the it for me. It's all about the pace of the game and what happens during the game, not how the game ends. I think most fans would agree.

There are any number of issues with the way the current system works. Hell, the NHL indirectly admits that their regular season tiebreaking situation sucks with the fact that the same system doesn't carry over to the postseason. If four-on-four overtime and then a shootout isn't a sufficient way to end a postseason game, why is it sufficient enough to finish a regular season game?  

I can admit that the tie is a bit of an anti-climactic ending for everybody involved. It might be a deserved ending to a quality battle between two teams, and it's certainly a fair outcome -- much more fair than winning or losing a game in a shootout. But when you talk to a casual fan of the NHL, they'll no doubt tell you they enjoy the shootout and hate anything that has to do with a tie. 

That's a problem, and we can't just throw ties back into the game and revert back to the pre-lockout system we enjoyed for that reason, even if the majority of diehard fans don't have a problem with them. And it's certainly possible -- even likely -- that I'm in the minority on this and most people hate ties with a passion.

But we can at least agree that the current system isn't ideal. It's not working, and when playoff spots are determined based on these skills contests at the end of games, we need a better solution.

I think that solution includes ties, but I also understand the need to limit the frequency of them.

Let's look back at the 2003-04 season, the last year we had ties in the NHL.145 games were decided in overtime that season, and there were another 170 ties. 315 games in total were decided beyond regulation that year, or 25.6 percent of the total number of games played. 17 percent of NHL games resulted in a tie, and 13 percent were decided in overtime.

The goal should be to simply up the number of games that are decided in overtime, thus reducing the number of ties. Seems simple enough. I'm not the best at math, really, but if we were to just add one or two extra five-minute overtime periods before having games end in a tie, that number would drastically reduce. Hell, make it three more five minute overtime periods, or even just one extra 20 minute period of sudden death.

It's not long enough to the point where it's going to kill teams in terms of fatigue, but it's long enough to curtail the prevalence of ties. And if we go through that extra overtime play and there's still a tie score on the scoreboard, well, it's really not the worst thing in the world, is it? 


Morning Skate is a daily NHL column. It runs Monday through Friday. Check the archives.