- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2014


It is a bit unsettling to be agreeing with John Tortorella on anything. “Torts” is the king of crusty, the man who led the New York Rangers team that eliminated the Capitals from the past two Stanley Cup playoffs.

But when the man is right, he’s right.

The NHL’s shootout “should be out of the league,” Torts, now the coach of the Canucks, told reporters in Vancouver as quoted by the Canadian Press. “That gimmick should be out of the league.”

The Canucks were 2-6 in shootouts this season at the time of the remarks, so maybe that had something to do with it. Likely not. Even if they’d been 8-0, Tortorella’s point would stand.

Shootouts are fun to watch. They can be exciting, they can be tense.

They’re also a gimmick and they have no place in deciding the actual outcome of a game.

Imagine if the NBA or college basketball decided one overtime was enough. Let’s just go to a free-throw shooting contest.

Or if baseball said hey, after two extra innings we’re going to turn this into Home Run Derby!

Bogus. Gimmick. Any other synonym that comes to mind.

If you’ve watched much of the Caps lately, you can’t help but think about shootouts since it seems like they’re in one every game. Their 14 shootouts thus far lead the league, and they’re 8-6 in them.

In the two previous games before Wednesday’s matchup at Pittsburgh, the Caps went to shootouts against Buffalo and then San Jose. Caps coach Adam Oates sent Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom out in that order in each game. None scored. None really came close. Six cows on skates, maybe even blindfolded cows, might have come closer to scoring, actually. Poor Philipp Grubauer gets beat once and the Caps earn only one standings point while the other team gets two.

But the opinion wouldn’t change even if the Caps were perfect in shootouts, even if the great Ovechkin could actually manage to score in one of them (he has at some point, though it hasn’t happened very often lately).

They’re a gimmick. They should be out of the league.

Shootouts are relatively new. The league adopted them for the 2005-06 season, part of a way to ignite some interest in the league following a season lost to lockout. Ties used to be a part of regular-season hockey. But who wants to see a tie? Let’s figure out a way to have an actual winner, even if we have to cheapen the game!

What’s wrong with a tie? It was a perfectly acceptable result for a lot of years, as much a part of hockey as faceoffs and fisticuffs. And it isn’t like they were happening all that much.

Per the NHL release announcing the shootout, 14 percent of the NHL games in the 2003-04 season ended in ties. Is that so bad?

Going into Wednesday, the Caps had been involved in 89 shootouts since the rule was changed (it only seems like all of them have been this year). They’d won in 41 of them, good for 20th among all NHL teams. Pittsburgh, perhaps not surprisingly, is tops with 58 shootout victories in 88 tries.

As for the Caps players, they’re a mixed bag. The choices Oates made in recent games are probably his best options to start the shootout, recent results notwithstanding.

Backstrom is 6 of 12, Fehr 5 of 8. Ovechkin is the real head scratcher. He’s the reigning MVP and leads the league in goals and he’s 2 of 13 in shootouts this season (25 of 81 for his career). Mikhail Grabovski is 5 of 10 this season. Maybe Oates was saving him to be one of the extra shooters if it extended beyond the normal three shots. Brooks Laich is 2 of 2, Troy Brouwer 2 of 5, Martin Erat 1 of 2. No other Cap has a shootout goal this season.

Erat is at 32.7 percent for his career (16 of 49) with 12 game-deciding goals but he’s not much of an option since he spends most of his time as a healthy scratch in the press box, waiting to be traded (along with one of the three goalies perhaps?). Maybe the Caps should have re-signed Matt Hendricks after all. Now an Edmonton Oiler, Hendricks is 9 of 17 for his career in shootouts.

The current career leader in shootout goals, just for the trivial heck of it, is Brad Bowes of Florida with 37 (in 79 tries).


These aren’t decisions Oates, Tortorella or any NHL coach should have to worry about in the regular season. Take your tie, take your point and go home.

• Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@washingtontimes.com.

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