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Indeed, if players such as Pierre Dagenais didn't exist, the shootout likely would have created them. Dagenais is Montreal's designated shooter. He is a languid-skating, 10-minutes-per-game left wing with a heavy, target-seeking wrist shot. When coach Claude Julien sent him out to finish off the Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 22, Dagenais had played less than three minutes of the 65 minutes of regulation and overtime. "You have certain players in mind for the shootout before the start of the game, but if they're not burying their chances, you make a change," he says. "Let's say Dagenais was not one of the guys who went out and missed a bunch of opportunities that night. He didn't create any doubts." In shootouts Dagenais is two for two, both game-winners, including a Dec. 20 wrister that whipped past Ottawa goalie Dominik Hasek's blocker. "I always want to go," Dagenais says of his shootout exploits. "I've got time. I've got the puck. I'm paid to score goals. Why not?"
The NHL can still fine-tune its new toy. It should revisit the eternal issue of the quality of the ice (it's inconsistent even after a quick postovertime scrape by the Zamboni) and should tighten rules about shootout eligibility. On Dec. 9 Vancouver winger Todd Bertuzzi was allowed to shoot against Ottawa even though he had finished overtime in the penalty box. (He made his shot.) The league also can be more proactive in publicizing the stats of shooters and goalies (box, below), giving announcers time to chew on them before the shots are taken. Phoenix center Mike Comrie suggests an award for the shootout scorer with the best percentage, based on a minimum number of shots. Good thinking. The Malik Trophy?
This is the dilemma: If the shootout is an acceptable method for ending a regular-season game, does it lose its legitimacy if the league never considers it worthy of the playoffs? Is it preferable to see a playoff game drag interminably into a fifth, sixth or even seventh period--rare matches that get celebrated in lore but are witnessed only by insomniacs and overcaffeinated puckheads--or to mandate a shootout after, say, two or three overtime stanzas? At present there is no thought of incorporating a contingency shootout into what Quenneville calls "sacred" playoff overtime. As NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell told SI in an e-mail, "I would certainly not support it. ... I would go four-on-four after, say, one overtime period and even three-on-three before a shootout."
The NHL's reflexive response to almost everything is no, but as it ponders flatlined national cable ratings and its relevance among the so-called four major leagues, it should remember that shootouts provide the most collectible of moments: Roberto Baggio's missed penalty kick in the 1994 World Cup final after 120 minutes of play roiled Italians but did not strike most of the other two billion viewers worldwide as illegitimate; Peter Forsberg's sleight of hand on his 1994 Olympic shootout winner was memorialized on a stamp back home in Sweden; and Canada's shootout snub of icon Wayne Gretzky in the dramatic 1998 semifinal loss to Hasek's Czech Republic still stings in Canada. If the notion of a Stanley Cup shootout seems as alien as deciding the Super Bowl on a field-goal-kicking contest or the NBA championship on best of 10 free throws, consider that the longest NFL playoff game lasted only an extra quarter and a half and the 1976 classic Celtics-Suns triple overtime added only three minutes more than a standard regulation period. By contrast, the longest NHL game, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons in 1936, ended after 116 minutes, 30 seconds of overtime, almost six full extra periods having elapsed before Mud Bruneteau scored for a 1-0 Red Wings win. Just four postseasons ago the Flyers and the Penguins played into a fifth overtime (92 extra minutes of clock time); in 2003 the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Dallas Stars also went into a fifth OT. (The Ducks won.)
Campbell suggested that 90% of NHL players would be opposed to using the shootout at any juncture in the playoffs. The number is likely higher, but SI found a few who were vaguely supportive. "After three overtimes, yeah, I could see [a shootout]," Ottawa forward and captain Daniel Alfredsson says. "It's going to be a fluke who wins after that anyway. In the tradition of overtime, sooner or later someone makes a mistake because they're too tired. A shootout's just as fair."
Given the choice between willfully following tradition and trying to find a playoff niche for the niftiest idea since the curved blade, the NHL should think long and hard. The answer could be as easy as one-two-three.
Minimum three shots * Rookie
Minimum 10 shots * Rookie