I love this time of year. Races for playoff spots and final positioning. Tons of meaningful games. Exciting hockey. But I can't help but be completely annoyed by the current point system and OT/shootout format used by the NHL. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think twice about it last season, as Buffalo dominated the league and won the President's Trophy, all while going 10-4 in the shootout. I'll even admit that I used to hate ties, and was in favor of the change to 4 on 4 OT and the shootout. But if this season has given me anything, it's a new perspective on just how important every point is, and how cheap that bonus point for a shoutout win is.
I know: the standings probably wouldn't end up all that different, and teams like Buffalo will have had 82 chances to get enough points to make the playoffs, just like everybody else. And while they could easily be right in the thick of things by getting the job done during regulation, or even OT, in a handful of games recently, it's a tough pill to swallow knowing they lost 9 points to other teams, some of them contenders, through a skills competition. I enjoy the shootout as entertainment; but it belongs in the All-Star game as a showcase and exhibition of the game's best talents. I'd also argue that if Buffalo were 9-3 this year in the shoutout, and in a playoff spot, they'd be so as basically the same flawed team who's underperformed all season. Do I want a skills competition allowing a lesser quality team a chance to make the playoffs? A team who during the course of regular play, and 12 OT's, wasn't good enough to get the points needed to make the playoffs? Do I want another 2006-2007 Islanders team getting in on the last shot in a shootout in the last game of the year? No, no, and no. I do not want the NFL's version of parity, where medicore .500 teams are playoff contenders.
So, even though I know that the shootout is here to stay as long as Mr. Bettman and his NBA marketing genius is still running this joke of a league, I'll hold out hope that someone comes to their senses and gets rid of the shootout. Give me a 10 minute four on four OT with 2 points for the winner and 1 for the loser or tie, to help ensure an exciting OT instead of teams just playing for the tie. My biggest problem with the old ties was five minutes of boring OT, with teams (especially the visitor) ensuring themselves of a point. I still don't like the 3-point game, but there needs to be incentive to win, unless it's 2 for a win and 0 for a tie or loss, which I don't see ever happening. But please, just allow games to be won or lost based on actual hockey, and not a skills competition.