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Shootout skills now 'part of the package'

by Dan Rosen

"As far as preparation and awareness, people in the League are much more aware of the significance of the shootout now than they were before."
-- Steve Tambellini

Steve Tambellini swears he didn't acquire Ales Kotalik at the trade deadline just because he's notoriously good in the shootout. Similarly, Jim Rutherford didn't go after Jussi Jokinen in early February just because he excels in the post-overtime skills competition.

But ...

"Certainly that is an added bonus," Rutherford, the Carolina GM, told

"It's part of the package," added Tambellini, the general manager in Edmonton.

NHL General Managers are in agreement that if a player wants to keep his job in the League, he can't only excel as a shootout specialist, but it sure helps his market value if he can score consistently in the breakaway competition.

In most cases, shootout prowess has become a small part of the player evaluation process.

"I think you could carry a guy on your fourth line that you consider a specialist, a real solid fourth-line player that can be a difference-maker in the end," Rutherford said. "It would kind of be like in baseball where you have the pinch-hitter. He doesn't play every day, but he's a guy that can come off the bench and make a difference in the game."

The shootout philosophy, from a managing and coaching point of view, has changed since the event first came into the League following the work stoppage.

Now, even the old-school hockey guys have begun to appreciate it.

"I like it from the overall entertainment part of our game. It has been good from an entertainment value," Rutherford said. "I'm not totally as excited about it from a GM point of view, but I understand why we have it and it's good for our game."

Outside of fan interest, perhaps intrigue in the shootout stems from the layer it has added to the GMs' jobs. For instance, Minnesota's Doug Risebrough told that he has become more "cognizant of acquiring players that are going to be efficient in the shootout."

Risebrough traded rookie Ryan Jones and a second-round pick to Nashville this summer for defenseman Marek Zidlicky who, among other areas, has proven capable in the shootout. Zidlicky has won three games for the Wild in the shootout.

"I don't think it's got to be a priority, but you have to look at it and say you have three or four guys that can score on the shootout," Risebrough said. "You have to be cognizant of it, but I don't think it's a huge focus."

Managers and coaches are keenly aware of the importance of the shootout point now, much more than they were when it first came into the League.

"It's huge on so many different levels," Tambellini told "Probably when the shootout came into the League people underestimated the significance as you come down the line here of having people that can execute at that moment. From teams that just said, 'Yeah, it's a shootout, we hope we win,' to now teams practice it, review it and strategically set up people in different spots in the shootout."

For example, if it weren't for the shootout Carolina would have made the playoffs last season as the third seed. Instead, the Hurricanes lost three of their five shootouts and finished ninth, two points behind eighth-place Boston despite owning two more wins than the Bruins.

Maybe that's a reason -- even if it's only a small one -- why Rutherford traded for Jokinen in February. The Finnish forward never has scored more than 17 goals in a season, but he's second all time with 22 shootout goals.

"Clearly the points in overtime or the shootout can be the difference of whether you're in the playoffs or not," Rutherford said. "I can go to one game that we had with Buffalo at home (Feb. 26) that we won the shootout and it was Jussi's goal that did it. That one game alone and that one point can make the difference in us getting into the playoffs."

Coaches also have started strategizing their shootout lists more closely. There are differing philosophies.
"I don't think it's got to be a priority, but you have to look at it and say you have three or four guys that can score on the shootout. You have to be cognizant of it, but I don't think it's a huge focus." -- Doug Risebrough
"I don't know what the other coaches are doing, but for us, we want the shooters to know the goalie very well and then the player we'll pick is a player that is having a decent game," Minnesota's Jacques Lemaire said. "Usually if a guy doesn't have a good game we won't pick him. If it's not your night, what are your chances to score a goal in the shootout?"

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock is more rigid with his list. Hitchcock says he always picks the same five players -- Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius, Jakub Voracek, Antoine Vermette and Jason Williams. Derrick Brassard was a Hitch favorite before he got hurt.

The Jackets were 3-8 in the shootout last season, but are 5-5 this season.

"Regardless of what they have done recently or what their shootout record is, they are the guys I trust and I just go with them," Hitchcock said. "Sometimes I might switch up the order a little bit, but not very often, even on that. It's worked a little bit for us this year, more than it did last year."

Scouting has changed, too. Some teams have their goalie coaches call down prior to the shootout to give advice to the shooters on the opposing goalie. They'll dish on tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.

Technology has allowed them to study the shootout more.

"Now we have the tools to do it," Lemaire said. "We can get every goal against every goalie on film. We couldn't get that four years ago or even two years ago. That's how it works. Heck, in 10 years you'll be able to coach from your house. There are no secrets anymore.

"What we do is let the player know when they're in this situation this is what they're trying to do, so get ready for it. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't."

If you've got a player capable of doing it, your team may just be better off for it.

It's become the GM's job to locate that guy.

"As far as preparation and awareness," Tambellini said, "people in the League are much more aware of the significance of the shootout now than they were before."

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