Todd Bertuzzi of the Red Wings says he dreads having his teamís playoff hopes boil down to one penalty shot in a shootout. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)
Detroit — The excitement proved too seductive for those overly concerned about the marketing of the NHL.
The shootout is a ticking bomb, poised to destroy the fairness that supposedly governs the regular season — the time now drawing to a close before the so-called second season, the Stanley Cup playoffs.
On the last day of the schedule, two teams playing each other are tied for the last playoff spot in one of the conferences.
After three periods, the game is tied. No goals are scored in the overtime.
They go to the shootout. It's scoreless through two rounds. One team scores in the third, and the puck is on the stick of the third shooter, at center ice.
The entire season is on his stick.
A couple of dozen players and families, coaches, management, owners, businesses in the area of the arena and the emotions of hundreds of thousands of fans who attended games and perhaps millions watching on television are utterly dependent on his success.
Determining everything is one person's success on a play once saved only for the rare occasions when an opponent's illegal maneuver stops a clear breakaway or a puck is illegally frozen in the goal crease.
Actually, forget about imagining the scenario. It already happened.
On April 11, 2010, in the last game of the season between two teams tied in the standings, the Rangers' Olli Jokinen failed to score on Flyers goalie Brian Boucher.
Philadelphia went to the playoffs. New York did not.
What kind of sport decides the participants in a two-month championship tournament, after a seven-month season, by having players perform an event mostly suitable for a skills competition or rare penalties?
Do dueling kickers ever engage in solitary rounds of field-goal attempts to decide the participants in the NFL playoffs? Do NBA players compete with 3-point shots to determine playoff spots?
How about a home run derby if two baseball teams are tied after 162 games?
Eight years after it was instituted by the NHL to prevent tie games in the regular season and increase the popularity of the game, it is well past time to call a charade a charade.
End the shootout.
Either that, or as Ken Holland suggested in 2008, at least institute two rounds of overtime before going to the shoot-out.
"If you do a dry scrape of the ice with two Zambonis, it takes about six minutes," said Holland, who knows, because he once asked Al Sobotka and his staff at Joe Louis Arena to undertake the task and timed them.
"Clean ice, two overtime periods. You can go four-on-four, then three-on-three."
In the first eight years,shootouts have determined the results of about 12-15 percent of games.
"It is my belief that more and more games are going to be decided by a shootout," Holland said. "There is more parity this year than there was last year, and there will be more parity next year than there was this year."
Holland brought his proposal before the NHL Board of Governors five years ago and he was forced to settle for a small victory in 2010: Shootout victories are not counted in the first tiebreaker to determine the standings.
Regardless, wins in shoot-outs still count for points.
"I already tried it once," Holland said, smiling. "I am waiting for someone else to give it a shot."
Even some players who are regular, successful participants in the shootout fear the possible.
"You know that it's going to come down to two guys with the playoffs on their sticks, at some point," said Todd Bertuzzi, of the Red Wings, who is 16-for-43, or 37.2 percent, in career shootout attempts.
"I'd feel sorry for whoever it is. No one wants to be one of them?"
Meanwhile, the way some players approach the task has become a tawdry exhibition.
On March 11, Kaspars Daugavins of the Senators skated in on Tuuka Rask of the Bruins with his stick blade inverted on top of the puck, pressing it down to the ice. It is a hockey-on-the-backyard-rink trick that my older brother used to pull on me all the time — 50 years ago, when we were kids.
When Daugavins got to the crease, he did a 360 degree turn and tried to shove the puck, still under the inverted blade of his stick, past Rask.
Rask made the save.
By the next morning, many hockey people and fans were outraged at the silliness.
A YouTube review of Patrick Kane's shootout goals for the Blackhawks demonstrates that, as goaltenders including Miika Kiprusoff and Niklas Backstrom have complained, Kane occasionally does come to a stop while performing one of his super-slow-motion shots.
By rule, "the puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent's goal line..."
The play ends, and the referees should blow it dead, "anytime the puck ... comes to a complete stop."
When Kane pauses, cocks a leg behind him and then begins to move the puck back-and-forth in front of him, again, the whistles should have been blown at the break in proceedings.
Similar stop-and-go complaints were made by the Kings against the Canucks' Alex Burrows on Jan. 29 and by the Blue Jackets against the Canucks' Mason Raymond on March 12.
Some goalies — such as the Kings' Jonathan Quick — even complain about Burrows after they make the save.
Rules do allow for the so-called lacrosse maneuver, in which shooters pick up the puck with the blade of the stick and sling it at the net, and "the spin-o-rama," in which the shooter completes a 360-degree turn.
The reason they had to write the spin-o-rama in is because it clearly conflicts with the rule that "the puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent's goal line."
The mere fact that the term "spin-o-rama" appears in the NHL rules should have provided a clarion warning that something is amiss in the game.
Some goalies say it is all getting a little ridiculous. They are right.
In reviewing Burrows' play for TSN.ca, the former veteran NHL referee Kerry Fraser said that by rule, the move was legal. But it also was unfair to the goalie, Fraser said.
So, maybe unfair should be illegal? Rules in sport do tend to enforce fairness.
And by clearly not enforcing the rules for a penalty shot, which also govern shootout attempts, some referees render goalies utterly superfluous.
The NHL is setting itself up for another fall.
And make no mistake, the detonator is timed and ticking.
If left unaddressed, at some point the shootouts and the honored-in-a-breach rules regulating them will cause fans to wonder aloud, "Who is running this game?"
Shootouts by the rule book
In the NHL during the regular season, a tie score at the end of regulation results in a five-minute overtime period of sudden-death play, with teams skating four per side rather than the customary five. If the score remains tied, a shootout ensues. Three players for each team will take penalty shots against the opposing goalie, with extra players partaking if necessary until one team has the lead after the teams have taken an equal number of shots.
Each team receives a point for the tie at the end of regulation.
The team winning the shootout gets a second point in the standings.
If two teams are tied in the standings at the end of the season, the first tiebreaker is the number of wins, eliminating wins in shootouts, a statistic called ROW, or Regulation and Overtime Wins.