Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - To many hockey lovers, introducing the shootout to the NHL has always been a mistake.
Judging by the most interesting proposal to come out of this year's gathering of the league's general managers, it's pretty clear they are firmly in that camp.
The annual GM meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, is a time for taking a hard look at the state of the NHL and coming up with ideas to improve the sport. At this year's convention, the big idea doesn't propose making any changes to the shootout itself. Instead, the overtime format would be altered in order to lessen the frequency of shootouts.
Although the details of the system still need to be worked out, the GMs came up with an intriguing way to curb the number of games ending with the breakaway contest. The changes would allow for at least part of the overtime period to feature 3-on-3 play, which would theoretically make it much more likely a game would be decided in OT rather than the shootout.
In other words, the GMs would like to cut the legs out from under the shootout and it wouldn't be the league's first effort to do so.
The shootout, of course, was introduced for the 2005-06 season in an attempt to drum up interest for the NHL following the lockout that wiped out the previous campaign.
It worked for a little while. Crowds initially went wild for the new segment, but the novelty eventually wore off and that's when the league decided to limit the shootout's importance.
Beginning with the 2010-11 season, shootout wins were no longer included in the tiebreaker formula. Only regulation and overtime wins, or ROW, would feature in the first tiebreaker category. That meant a team could have a greater number of wins overall but finish lower in the standings than a club which relied less on the shootout for those wins.
The problem was the new ROW column turned out to be little more than a half measure. The new proposals for changing OT, however, could have a major impact.
The 3-on-3 format was introduced to the American Hockey League this season and the results have been astonishing. According to NHL.com (citing AHL numbers from the start of this week), 35.3 percent of AHL games that went to OT in 2013-14 ended before the shootout, but that number has jumped to 76 percent this season. Overall, only 5.8 percent of AHL tilts have ended in shootouts in 2014-15 compared to 15.6 percent last season.
The AHL format also expanded the overall OT time from five minutes to seven. The period starts out 4-on-4 but changes to 3-on-3 after the first whistle following the three-minute mark.
According to reports out of Boca, the NHL could decide to tweak that system a bit. They may expand to seven minutes but utilize a hard break in OT to mark the switch to 3-on-3 rather than wait for a whistle. Other incarnations include keeping the period at its current five-minute length but making the whole thing a 3-on-3 affair.
While the specifics still need to be fine-tuned, the GMs already have given their approval for some sort of 3-on-3 change. The NHL Players Association now needs to consider the alternations and give its support before the format becomes official, which would most likely begin at the start of the 2015-16 season.
Commissioner Gary Bettman won't admit it yet, but this development is another sign the shootout could some day go the way of the dodo bird.
"The consensus in the room, overwhelmingly, is we're not getting rid of the shootout," Bettman told NHL.com. "It was, how do you reduce the number of games that go to the shootout, keep the shootout special?"
That's nonsensical, of course. If the shootout was ever "special" in the first place, why on earth would there be any attempt to lessen the number of them?
The simple truth is people were willing to give the shootout a fair chance, but it just hasn't been a good addition to the sport. Sadly, it may be here to stay, but at least the league's power brokers are smart enough to realize something needed to be done to lessen the shootout's impact.