American hero T.J. Oshie (left) and some guy (right).
People are still talking about Saturday morning's shootout between Russia and the United States, and for good reason. It was perhaps the most captivating moment of the Sochi men's Olympic hockey tournament to date, gripping people the world over as T.J. Oshie, cool as a cucumber, outduelled Sergei Bobrovsky and the host Russians to give the United States the victory, both in the game and, eventually, in Group A.
But it did more than just hold our attention in the moment: it successfully mined a superstar out of a shootout for the first time since the NHL moved to the overtime-deciding format after the 2004-05 lockout, ostensibly to do exactly that.
Since then, Oshie's gone from some guy that plays for the St. Louis Blues to one of the most recognizable names in hockey. He's been everywhere. He got a tweet from the President Obama, who, let's face it, doesn't care about hockey in the slightest.
Hell, T.J. Oshie's mom -- his mom -- is making the media rounds. She's done The Today Show and Access Hollywood, neither of which are exactly known for their coverage of hockey player's moms.
Suffice it to say, Oshie became a household name overnight, and we have international hockey's relaxed shootout rules to thank for it. In international hockey, after your first three shooters have gone, you can use anyone you want, including one of the aforementioned three. Heck, you can go to him over and over. International hockey don't care. Just score. Whatever.
It sets up the kind of incredible drama we saw on Saturday, with the outcome of the game, and the pride of a nation, resting on the shoulders of one guy. It's how you make heroes. It's how you tell great sports stories.
Meanwhile, In the NHL, Oshie goes once, he either scores or he doesn't, and then it's on to the next guy. And after you've used your three, likely your best, most recognizable players, it's time to start scanning the bench, picking guys not known for their moves and hoping they surprise you.
Sometimes it happens. Marek Malik remains the biggest surprise dangler in shootout history. But for the most part, it's a team's fifth defenceman or third-line winger wristing a shot, scoring or not scoring, and fans responding with a shrug.
Basically, NHL shootouts get less and less compelling as they go. International hockey shootouts, as we've learned, have the capacity to become more gripping and to create moments and superstars. It's entirely thanks to this rule.
It seems to me that the NHL should be looking into adopting this rule, like, yesterday. But according to Bill Daly, they probably won't.
“We haven’t even talked about that with our general managers at any point and time, but I would very surprised if the general managers would ever be supportive of that type of concept," Daly told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. "It’s tough enough that they don’t like the shootout as it is.”
Pardon me while I retrieve my eyeballs from the back of my head.
In other words, the NHL won't look into an obvious solution to make their shootout a more compelling in-game feature, because the mere mention of the word "shootout" is going to start an argument about shootouts in general.
I get that, I guess. I don't love the shootout. I don't think it should be deciding games either. But that's a different argument. It does decide games, and so long as it does, it's pure, liquid stupidity for the league to hold back on attempting to improve it so they can tiptoe around league GMs. Keeping the shootout as quiet as possible, so as to not disturb the general managers, is cowardly and asinine.
Presumably, the goal here is to put the best, most marketable product on the ice, and with his four goals in six attempts, T.J. Oshie didn't just win the game for he States, he exposed the NHL for failing to do that.
The arguments against going to this rule are weak. People will claim that allowing one player to be singled out like that somehow damages hockey's reputation as a team sport. These folks will tell you much the same thing about the shootout as a whole. That's Ray Ferrarro's take:
Don't want to be stick in mud and was amazed w @OSH74,but shootout has almost no team component, and 1 player shooting 5x even less so
— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) February 15, 2014
Hockey is a team game, sure, but as much as we try our best to tamp down anyone who might dare to stand out, each team manages to create stars. Quick: name the entire Chicago Blackhawks roster. You can't. But you can name their best players, because even in the teamest of team games, there are outliers.
Heck, one guy wears a bunch more padding than the others (what a peacock!), and occasionally, takes sole blame for losses. There's a guy with a "C" on his chest (such a diva move!). There's the shutdown defenceman, the powerplay quarterback, the first-line center, the elite sniper, and so on, and so forth.
It may be a team game, but there are players on the team with notable roles. "Shootout specialist" should be one of them.
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