A letter to the NHL: do away with the shootout

After the 2005-2006 NHL season, which was cancelled due to a labor dispute between the Players Association and the NHL, the NHL adopted the shootout. On July 22nd, 2005 in New York, as part of the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the League instituted the shootout. Based on the rulebook, the shootout is to begin if two teams are tied after regulation and the five minute overtime period.

Regardless of a shootout loss, the losing shootout team still earns one point, affecting their points within the conference standings. The rule hasn’t changed since then.

In the 11 and a half years since then, the shootout still exists, a strange way to end a hockey game. It’s almost as bad as former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig making the MLB All-Star Game determining home-field advantage in the World Series (which has since been abolished.” A lot of people may be opposed to the NHL ending a game in a tie, but can it be much worse, or equal, to a shootout ending a game?

If 100 random die-hard hockey fans were polled on their opinion of the shootout, perhaps more than half would be against it.

According to current commissioner Gary Bettman, hockey fans “love the shootout.” Is his claim pure fiction, based on a small sample size, or possibly truthful? Bettman’s been the NHL commissioner since 1993, and has taken some hits from fans, for all the lockouts that cancelled games, as well as for his different approach for the game.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Tuukka Rask
Flyers’ defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere beating Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask in a shootout win on November 29th vs. Boston. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

It’s worth to note, more recently the NHL has created a category in each Conference’s standings (East and West), called ROW, which is a combination of the amount of regulation plus overtime wins a team has. Thus, the stat eliminates any shootout win a team may have. It basically serves as an incentive for teams to win the game as fast as possible.

So far this year, through 75 games, Washington leads the NHL in that category, with a ROW mark of 48, slightly above second-place Columbus (47). In addition to that, perhaps the stat is an indication of how fast some teams are- i.e. slower teams may have fewer ROW wins, due to a slower lineup, who’s aiming to get at least one point from each game.

Is the NHL shootout rule the equivalent, or worse than, to the NFL postseason rule that says teams can win any playoff game, including the Super Bowl (which occurred this past season), on a touchdown, without the opponent having the ball? It brings up a strong debate about odd rules in each sport, and how fair or unfair they are.

Every off-season NHL players are working hard, improving their strength and conditioning, aiming to be a better player, to contribute to their team’s success. Hockey, like any other pro sport, is a team sport above all else. So if I were a hockey player, GM or head coach, I would be furious at the idea that after 65 minutes my players weren’t playing 5×5, but rather leaving a goalie vulnerable. Defenseless is the best way to put it.

For debate’s sake, let’s say Hall of Fame goalie, and perhaps the greatest one in NHL history, Dominik Hasek played this season. Back when he was between the pipes (1990-2008), the game was different, more physical, and fun to watch, because it was less controlled by referees and not written as a possible shootout game. While he did play briefly during the shootout era (2005-2008), if he were unsuccessful during 1×1, it would perhaps prove even more so that the shootout was extremely flawed.

While we all love playing one on one in a practice rink or growing up in a school hockey league, it’s different when it’s at the pro level; in other words, when meaningful games are at stake.

As for the Flyers, through midway October of 2014, they were statistically the worst team ever in the history of the shootout era. Also within that timespan, out of 260 opponent shootout attempts, Flyers’ goalies only had a 57.3 save percentage. Despite that, out of those nine seasons (from the start of the shootout era till after the 2014 season), they made the playoffs on seven occasions.

They had the talent on paper to have success within the shootout, but for whatever reason they didn’t.

During the shootout, a goalie is the most vulnerable and, if I had to guess, I’m sure at least a fair amount would be opposed to it. Perhaps the shootout will occur less and less now that, thankfully, the NHL board of governors approved a rule for the overtime period to be 3 on 3, opening up the overtime more and creating odd-man rushes. This rule was signed almost two years ago, on June 24th of 2015.

Above all else, the shootout is more of a skills competition than a team sport, with one offensive player versus the net-minder, and nothing more. It’s reminiscent of past NHL All-Star Games. Midway through this season the NHL announced that from now on, the All-Star Game skills competition will no longer include the Breakaway Challenge- which was essentially the same concept as shootouts.

For the NHL, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of the All-Star Game breakaway scenario, yet keep shootouts in each game. All-Star Games are no bearing within the standings, unlike games that end in a shootout. Thus, it’s time to abolish it and stick to the 3 on 3, five minute, overtime period.

Flyers-Stars Recap

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AP Photo

This afternoon the Flyers capped off their three-game home stand with a 4-2 win over Dallas.

After a 2-1 deficit halfway through the third period, Philadelphia scored three unanswered goals and won their eighth-consecutive game. Six of those eight wins were at home. Today’s win marks the first time that they’ve won eight or more consecutive games in a season since 2001-02, when they won eight straight from January 6th-19th.

In today’s game, second-line center Brayden Schenn recorded a hat trick, his second career one and his first one since February 29th of this year vs. Calgary. First-line winger Jakub Voracek recorded four points (1 goal and 3 assists), his second four-point game in the span of three days (after a Flyers’ 6-5 win over Edmonton on December 8th).

After a rocky start to the season, starting goalie Steve Mason has rebounded very strongly. Last week he was the NHL’s first star of the week (with a 1.71 goals against average). He lost his first three starts of the season and since Michal Neuvirth’s left knee injury on November 12th (which has him placed on the team’s long-term injury-reserved list) Mason’s gone 9-3-1 and has a 0.921 save percentage.

All-time, the Flyers are 74-42-32 against Dallas, and 3-4 over the past five seasons. Philadelphia’s now 10-3-4 this season vs. the Western Conference.

The scoring started 07:30 into the first period, when the Stars started a strong forecheck and center Devin Shore chipped the puck past Flyers’ defenseman Mark Streit and backhanded it short side past Steve Mason. Almost 10 minutes later, after Stars’ left-winger Curtis McKenzie boarded Nick Cousins and was penalized, Brayden Schenn scored on the power play.

After the penalty, Claude Giroux won a offensive-zone face-off against Radek Faksa, Shayne Gostisbehere threw it on net, leading to a double deflection and a Schenn redirection. Despite being tied after the first period, the Flyers have been a poor first-period team this year, having been outscored 29-20.

The scoring didn’t resume until midway through the third period, when Shore was wide open and scored again, flipping it to the left of Mason. Three Flyers were posted to the middle and center of Mason, and completely forgot about Shore, who scored his third and fourth goals of the season. Schenn led the charge again for the Flyers, tipping it in and tying the score with only 3 and a half minutes left.

After the second Schenn goal, a minute and thirty three seconds later Schenn netted his third goal — and third power-play goal — on a Wayne Simmonds’ slap shot from right near the right face-off circle. On the rebound, Schenn wristed it past Dallas’ goalie Kari Lehtonen’s right side. A minute and six-seconds later, Voracek backhanded a neutral-zone shot into the Stars’ empty net, sealing the game.

Remarkably, in the last 3:48 of the game, the Flyers scored three goals, after having only scored one goal in the previous 56:12 minutes of play. In the last 3:48 minutes of play, Dallas had only one shot on net and zero of them in the last 3:20 minutes. Shore and center Tyler Seguin combined for eight shots and eight blocked shots, while Schenn won 88 percent of his face-off attempts (7/8) and had four shots on net.

Flyers’ defenseman Michael Del Zotto sat out his second-consecutive game, with Radko Gudas back in the lineup. Center Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup, he was a healthy scratch on Thursday night vs. Edmonton, while 22-year-old winger Taylor Leier was also a healthy scratch, having been called up from Lehigh Valley last week. For Dallas, center Jiri Hudler and defenseman Patrik Nemeth were healthy scratches.

The Flyers went 3-4 on the man advantage, they’re ranked second best in the league this year in power-play efficiency (23.6 percent). They’ve scored on the power play in four-straight games (7/18, 39 percent). With his assist on Brayden Schenn’s final goal, Wayne Simmonds has had five points in his last four games. Schenn had his first multi-point game since November 22nd at Florida.

With the Flyers currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot and riding a recent hot streak, the big question is will they continue to improve and end up making the playoffs? Last season, under rookie head coach Dave Hakstol, they made some improvements defensively, while still standing as a respectable offensive-minded team.

Philadelphia’s recent string of injuries could hamper the team long term, with star center Sean Couturier being out four to six weeks with a sprained MCL. Couturier’s injury is a huge loss. Meanwhile, goalie Michal Neuvirth (as mentioned) is out four to six weeks with a groin injury. The team’s also without improved right-winger Matt Read, who’s out four weeks with an oblique pull.

The East is arguably stronger than the West, with the Metropolitan Division leading the way. The division is occupying five out of the eight total playoff spots (the Rangers, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Flyers and Capitals). With 52 games to go, it remains to be seen what will happen come mid April.

Cubs-Dodgers preview, and Flyers-Kings preview

Before I get to hockey, last night’s NLDS decisive game between the Dodgers and Nationals set a record for the longest nine-inning postseason game in history; four hours and 32 minutes.

National League Division Series

The previous record holders were the Red Sox and Yankees, in game three of the 2003 ALCS. Also of note, Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw made his debut as a relief pitcher, cleaning up closer Kenley Jansen’s mess in the ninth inning. Jansen, who normally only pitches an inning, went two and a 1/3. It was Kershaw’s first appearance since throwing 110 pitches two days prior in game four, and his first career postseason save. The Phillies had a huge impact on the Dodgers’ win.

In the top of the seventh, former Phils’ All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz knocked in a run, which broke a 1-1 tie and ended up being the game-winning hit. Ironically, Ruiz pinch hit for Chase Utley, who, in six innings, went 0-3 with a strikeout. In his last 17 postseason at-bats, Utley only has three hits. The last time Utley had a multi-hit postseason game was in game four of the 2011 Cardinals-Phillies NLDS.

Continuing the Phillies’ theme, Joe Blanton was traded from the Phillies to the Dodgers four-years ago, and last night he pitched one and a 1/3 and didn’t allow a run.

In Blanton’s last five postseason games, he’s yet to allow a run, striking out five batters in six innings. Late last year, and more so this year, Blanton switched from being a starter to a middle reliever, a role that’s worked out great for him. He was 7-2, with a 2.48 ERA, this year, averaging nine strikeouts a game.

On the opposite side, the only other player in the game from the Phillies’ 2008 World Series champion team was Washington left-fielder Jayson Werth. This year, in a combined 86 at-bats vs. both Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Werth only hit .244 (which also was his batting average for the entire year) and had four home runs. In last night’s bottom of the sixth inning, Werth was tagged out at home after first baseman Ryan Zimmerman lined a double to left.

After a promotion, Dodgers’ quality assurance coach, former infielder Juan Castro, also played for the Phillies (in 2010).

Also of note, Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully made his last National League Division series’ game call, as he’s retiring following the season.

National League Championship Series

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With the win, tomorrow night the Dodgers will face off in Wrigley Field against the National League Central Division-winning Cubs. Game one’s first pitch is scheduled for 8:08, with Cubs’ ace Jon Lester set to start. The Dodgers have yet to name their game one starter, but it certainly won’t be ace Clayton Kershaw, based on the amount of pitches he’s thrown the past few days. This year vs. the Dodgers, Lester had a 0.60 ERA and a record of 1-0.

It seems likely Kershaw will start game three in Los Angeles, as he’ll be more well rested by then (game three’s next Tuesday). Tuesday will be Kershaw’s first game vs. Chicago this year, due to a herniated disc injury he suffered in late June. In eight career starts vs. the Cubs, Kershaw’s 5-3, with a 2.18 ERA and 11.4 strikeouts per game. In five career starts vs. the Dodgers, Lester’s 2-2, with a 3.06 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per game. The two aces have never faced off against each other before.

Many expert baseball columnists are predicting Chicago to win. Besides Kershaw, even though he’s been a horrible postseason pitcher, the Dodgers’ pitching depth is weak, while Chicago will field three of the best starters in baseball (Lester, Arrieta and Hendricks). Chicago manager Joe Maddon, who made a World Series appearance in 2008, is more experienced than Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who’s in his first career postseason appearance as a skipper.

Prediction

Chicago in six. With a win, Chicago would advance to their first World Series since 1945.

Flyers-Kings

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The start of hockey season began two-nights ago, and tonight the Flyers begin their season inside the Staples Center at Los Angeles. Tonight, center Claude Giroux will enter his fifth season as Flyers’ captain, the first to accomplish that feat since Eric Lindros did it from 1995-2000. All time, Philadelphia’s 21-19-8 in season openers, having lost their last four.

Flyers’ backup Michal Neuvirth is slated to start in net for Philadelphia, while Kings’ Conn Smythe Trophy-winning netminder Jonathan Quick is out with a lower-body injury. This morning, he was placed on the injury-reserve list, and will be out for a significant amount of time. With that being said, backup Jeff Zatkoff, who only played 14 games last season, will get the nod.

In 178 postseason minutes last year vs. Washington, Neuvirth was spectacular, stopping 103 out of 105 shots, winning two games and posting a minuscule 0.67 goals against average. He’ll be making his fourth career start vs. Los Angeles.

The Flyers will bring aboard a couple young newcomers into the fold, with 2015 first-round pick Travis Konecny starting as the second-line left-winger. The Flyers’ 2015 seventh-overall pick, highly-touted defenseman Ivan Provorov will also make his debut and will pair up with veteran Mark Streit on the second defensive pairing.

Konecny, 19, is very competitive, leads by example, and is a great skater and puck handler. Last season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting, he put up 56 points in 31 games, and was a +26. Sarnia Sting’s head coach, former NHL defenseman, is Derian Hatcher, who also played for the Flyers — from 2005-08.

Meanwhile, Provorov is very skilled on the PK, manning the power play (he’ll be inserted into the team’s second power-play unit) and he’s very intelligent; especially in reading opponent’s passes.

Last season, the Flyers were 0-1-1 vs. Los Angeles, and their last win in Los Angeles was in early December of 2014 (on December 6th). Last postseason, both teams got knocked out in the opening round, with Los Angeles losing to rival San Jose in five games and Philadelphia losing to the President’s Trophy-winning Capitals in six.

Los Angeles is one and a half point favorites, with a 5 1/2 over/under line. Tonight’s game will be the first time since 1967 (the team’s inaugural season) that the Flyers will open their season against a California team. On October 10th, 1967, the Flyers lost 5-1 to the Oakland Seals.

Without Quick in net, I see the Flyers winning tonight in a close one, and making the playoffs this year again. Kings’ first-line center Anze Kopitar is still a threat, with his elusiveness and puck handling, but the Flyers’ improving defense should be able to lighten his production. In the off-season, Los Angeles lost two-way center Milan Lucic to Edmonton.

Prediction

Flyers 4-2

Depth Chart

Their updated depth chart — with all the line combinations, defensive pairings and goalies — is listed below.

Goalies
Steve Mason
Steve Mason
Michal Neuvirth
Michal Neuvirth