The Olympics have been fantastic for hockey so far; Saturday’s tilt between USA and Russia drew the largest television audience of any event ever shown on NBC Sports Network. Throngs of people tuned in for the game despite its early-morning start time, filling up bars and other establishments all across the United States. The culmination to these gatherings, of course, was a slew of equally wild and memorable reactions to T.J. Oshie’s fourth and final shootout goal.
That particular game made it incredibly evident that the NHL must make a change.
I am not referring to any rule concerning player participation in the Olympics, although the route the NHL needs to take with regard to that has become incredibly obvious as well.
No. The rule that has to go is associated with the shootout. Specifically, I find fault in the requirement that a player cannot shoot for a second time until every other member of his team has gone once.
What is the justification for this? The shootout is a complete departure from the team-oriented nature of hockey as it is; arguments that the current rule maintains some sense of “team” are missing the mark. Further, its primary function when introduced after the 2004 NHL lockout was both to entertain fans and to eliminate ties. Is it not antithetical to the former ideal to limit the amount of times that a team’s best shooter can take part?
Changing this rule to mirror what it is in international hockey would make the increasingly-drab NHL shootout immeasurably more interesting. T.J. Oshie was trending all over the world on Saturday, yet he was one of Team USA’s most invisible forwards through 65 minutes. Certainly the Olympic stage has a lot to do with that, but the important takeaway here is that a player being eligible to shoot one time after another inexorably breeds added intrigue.
Allowing shooters to repeat vastly augments the potential for dramatic narratives such as Oshie’s. The landscape of the NHL shootout, presently dull and familiar, would once again be fresh and captivating.
Time to make a change.
Follow Sean Sarcu on Twitter: @seansarcu