How to fix the NHL: Eliminate shootouts, overtime-loser points, fighting

Last week, I wrote about how the NFL can be improved by eliminating kicking from the game. It got me thinking. Football isn’t the only sport that could use fixing.

How do we go about fixing hockey? I have some solutions.

I’ll start with the painstakingly obvious: Please, in the name of all things holy, get rid of the shootout.

Shootouts are fun to watch, but they are skills competitions that are horrible ways to determine the winner of a professional hockey game.

nhl_emersonFor 65 minutes including the overtime, skaters focus on working the puck out of their own zone, working it to the neutral zone, crossing center ice and deciding whether to fight across the blue line or dump it in the zone. From there, teams move the puck around, trying to find an open shot and then taking it.

Shootouts involve moving an uncontested puck from center ice and shooting on a goalie who has no defensive help.

As Stu Hackel of Sports Illustrated says, “It’s deciding the outcome of a hockey game without actually playing hockey, and I want to see hockey.”

Playoff hockey is when it gets good. There are no shootouts, and the game continues until a winner is decided. Remember last year’s Stanley Cup Game 1 that went to three overtimes? That was awesome.

So here’s what I propose. We can’t have triple overtime in the regular season because of the physical toll the game takes. The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins played more than 112 minutes of hockey. In the regular season, that’s too much.

I like that overtime goes to four-on-four. Yes, it changes the game, but the idea is to score goals and opening the ice will do that. Both teams have four-on-four lines ready for every game anyway, so let’s use them. The five minutes of four-on-four can stay.

After those five minutes, do five minutes of three-on-three. Again, teams are prepared to play with only three men, so it’s still actually hockey, not a shootout. Keep playing three-on-three mini periods of five minutes until someone scores. With that much ice, someone will score.

Shootouts must go. Penalty shots, however, can stay. The idea of a penalty shot is that it grants a free shot to a team that would have otherwise had a breakaway, so penalties are the only time we should ever see one skater on the ice, regulation or overtime.

On the topic of overtime, why does the loser get rewarded in the standings at all? For those unfamiliar with the crazy way that NHL determines its standings, a game’s winner gets two points. It does not matter if that game is decided in regulation, overtime or a shootout. A regulation loser gets no points.

However, if a team loses in overtime or a shootout, it receives one point.

Why?

As Raw Charge points out, why give a point at all? The sport eliminated ties, making it a game of absolutes: win or lose. The team still lost. But because it lost in a little bit longer time than it would have normally taken, it gets an extra point … for some reason.

Baseball teams don’t get a consolation for losing in extra innings, football teams’ losses are still losses if it takes more than 60 minutes and losing in the five-minute overtime in basketball is exactly the same as in the first 48.

Another question is why does the losing team get a reward for surviving long enough to get to overtime, but the winning team takes no punishment for not finishing off its opponent in regulation?

If the idea is that a lot of NHL games end regulation in a tie and that the teams that lose in overtime deserve at least a little something because it wasn’t a true loss, then it only makes sense that the winners did not have a true win if it takes more than three periods.

A more reasonable solution would be to have a four-outcome system, in which a regulation winner gets three points, an overtime/shootout winner gets two points, an overtime/shootout loser gets one point and a regulation loser gets zero points.

But even that is stupid.

A game’s loser deserves nothing. A team’s record would not be wins-losses-overtime losses, it should be wins-losses and that’s it.

As of this writing, the Blackhawks are  second in the Western Conference with a 32-10-12 record. They lead the NHL with 12 overtime/shootout losses.

Take away those 12 “pity points,” and the extra points from all the teams that got the consolation, and suddenly the defending Stanley Cup champions have 64 points, drop to fifth in the West and lose home-ice advantage in their first playoff game.

My next suggestion may come with a great deal of criticism, but fighting in hockey needs to end.

Back on Nov. 1, even the goalies got into it. Ray Emery of the Philadelphia Flyers skated down the ice and challenged Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. The thing is, Holtby clearly didn’t want to fight.

Watch this video of it. Now watch as Holtby gets destroyed by Emery while the referee not only allows it to happen, but stops any of the Capitals from coming to Holtby’s aid.

Emery used an NHL game as an outlet to assault Braden Holtby. If Emery did that on the street he would go to jail. But because it’s during a game, a game in which this kind of action is legal, all he received was a game misconduct.

He was not suspended. He wasn’t even fined.

I take you back to Jan. 18, when a game between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames started with a line brawl that led to 142 penalty minutes a mere two seconds into the game.

As soon as the puck was dropped, Calgary’s Kevin Westgarth started pounding on Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, who did not want to fight, but took the punches and stood up for his teammates.

It led Peter Gammons, a well-respected baseball writer, to tweet “Calgary and Vancouver last night reiterated why the NHL is a minor sport.”

I don’t agree with Gammons’ belief that the NHL is a minor sport. On New Year’s Day, 105,491 crammed into the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich. to make it the most-attended sporting event on a day known for college football.

But I do agree with Gammons’ point. The Flames and Canucks acted in a way that was opposite of professional and made the NHL the laughingstock of the sports world. A sophomoric line brawl overshadowed a 3-2 game between division rivals.

Bobby Orr wasn’t known as a fighter, but the greatest defenseman in history believes fighting has a place in the game, citing frustration on the ice and how players stand up for teammates and fighting can be preventative.

I understand that it is a small playing surface for 10 skaters to be moving so fast playing a full-contact sport for aggressions to not flare. I also understand the threat of fighting the other team’s big man may stop someone from taking a cheap shot.

To Orr I say this: What about Holtby? Or Bieksa? Or Lee Stempniak? Or David Dziurzynski? Or Brooks Orpik? Or or or. The list goes on and on. Oh, and these all happened within the last twelve months.

I didn’t grow up around hockey. I love hockey, but I adopted it as one of my favorite sports fairly recently as far as fandoms go.

So you can talk to me about the unwritten rules of hockey all you want, and I will tell you that fighting in hockey is barbaric, it is bush league and it is idiotic.

 

Reach the columnist at justin.emerson@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson