Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I haven’t watched a shootout in two years and I highly recommend it

John​ Tortorella has a proposal for​ how​ the​ league​ should​ handle​ the shootout​ and it involves​ a whole lot of​ people​ dying.

I’d like to go on the record as being against league-mandated team-wide extinction. But allowing for a little bit of hyperbole to make his point, I’m with Tortorella on the broader issue. I’m not a shootout guy. I wouldn’t mind if the league got rid of it altogether, or at least figured out a way to drastically reduce how often they occur. Tyler Dellow has been on the case and he makes a convincing argument that expanding overtime by even a few more minutes would mean far fewer shootouts. Sounds good. Let’s make that happen.

But in the meantime, I’ve come up with a slightly more straightforward way to reduce the number of shootouts I’m subjected to: I just stopped watching them. Literally. I haven’t sat through an NHL shootout in almost two years.

Yes, I know. Great job, Einstein, figuring out that you can avoid something by, uh, avoiding it. And I realize that this doesn’t exactly qualify as some sort of scandalous confession. But it’s a bit of a strange thing to say given that, you know, my entire job is to watch hockey.

But that’s the thing: I like hockey. I’ve spent huge chunks of my life watching hockey. It’s pretty much my favorite thing to do short of making my children smile and it’s possible that I only said that last part because my wife might be reading. Hockey is great.

But here’s the thing, shootouts are only kind of hockey. They’re closer to being hockey than they are to being, say, backgammon or competitive Rubik’s cubing. But only barely. And when the game you’re watching finishes up overtime without a winner, there’s a good chance that there’s still real hockey being played on some other channel. Why wouldn’t you want to watch that instead?

A couple of years ago, that’s what I started doing. The shootout starts, I reach for the remote and find another game.

You know what? It’s way better this way. I highly recommend it.

I can’t remember the last shootout that I sat through, although I’d assume it came late in the 2016-17 season. But when opening night arrived in 2017, I made an impulse decision to bail on any shootouts and go looking for a game where they were still playing actual hockey instead.

At first, switching away from a game right before it ended seemed odd, like walking out of a movie right at the big finale. But it turns out that it doesn’t feel that way. I’d already seen the big climax – two teams had played real hockey for 65 minutes without finding a winner and now they were going to flip a glorified coin to award an extra point. Skipping the shootout turned out to be more like walking out of the movie before the long, boring credits sequence that you don’t really need to see anyway.

Back then, I figured my no-shootout experiment would last a week before I’d go back to watching hockey the way everyone else did. But a week turned into a month, which turned into a year and now two. And I can tell you: I don’t miss those things at all. There’s a good chance you wouldn’t either.

It turns out that you don’t actually miss all that much when you decide to just stop watching shootouts. You still find out who got the extra point within minutes, and somebody on Twitter will almost certainly be live-tweeting every attempt, so you don’t miss any important information. In the rare cases where somebody does something creative or there’s a spectacular save or a controversy or whatever, you’ll see that somewhere too, almost immediately. You’re not actually gaining anything by watching, other than a head start of a few seconds and maybe some vague sense of closure. Those things are worth something, I guess. They’re just not as much fun as watching actual hockey.

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