The five-year trial is over

By Drew Sharp
Updated: February 1, 2010

DETROIT — The shoot-out concept was cute at first. The NHL acquiesced to short attention spans after the owners’ lockout five years ago, guaranteeing a quick resolution to regular-season overtime games.

Turn 65 minutes of grinding endurance into a dazzling, gimmicky one-on-one skills competition for an extra point.

There stood Jimmy Howard outside the crease Sunday, knowing that nothing friendly stood between himself and two of the NHL’s most lethal stickmen — Sidney Crosby on one rush and Evgeni Malkin on the next — during the Wings’ shoot-out against the Penguins.

Both made splendid moves to score on Howard. Crosby went top shelf off his backhand, and Malkin patiently waited for Howard to commit before calmly tucking the puck behind the fallen goalie’s skate.

Pittsburgh got the point, but the NHL is missing the point.

Maybe I’ve simply grown tired of the shoot-out, because it seems to happen so frequently that there’s no longer anything fresh about it. Perhaps the NHL should acknowledge it made a mistake in cheapening the value of victory for the sake of creating easy highlights for “SportsCenter” (That is, on those rare occasions when “SportsCenter” shows hockey highlights).

It’s February. Points are a premium now. There isn’t much breathing room separating the 10th team in the conference standings from the fifth team. The Wings are ninth, one spot out of the final playoff spot among the Western Conference field following their 2-1 (shoot-out) loss to the Penguins, but they’re only nine points shy of fourth place and home-ice advantage in the first round.

Points are too precious not to go to those who fight hardest for them. The shoot-out has turned regular-season overtime into a white-flag surrender. Motivation isn’t there to get two points by old-fashioned methods. Teams would rather play it safe through overtime, get the point and take their chances in the shoot-out, where the best scorers are free to operate without a defensive bull’s-eye on their back.

Give the NHL points for outside-the-box thinking, but if it’s heresy determining playoff games through such gimmicks — and it is — then why not apply the same principle when doling out crucial late-season points necessary for earning final playoff berths?

The Wings are 4-6 in shoot-outs.

Fear not. They’re going to make the playoffs. Johan Franzen should return just before the Olympics. And Howard has been nothing short of spectacular, stopping 46 shots Sunday.

He’s the primary reason they got one point when they probably shouldn’t have.

The NHL added the shoot-out to showcase individual skills, an attempt at proving to novices that NHL hockey is as much an exercise in speed and grace as it is in physicality and grit.

I understood it then. I applauded the forward thinking then.

But there’s just something cheap about it now.

There’s nothing wrong with perseverance making the point in the regular season.