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BETTMAN: SHOOTOUT POPULAR, HERE TO STAY

Times wires

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The NHL emerged from the lockout with a new look, including a bold new way to determine a winner for regular-season games.

Plenty of skepticism from longtime fans surrounded the introduction of the shootout. Grumbling about using a skills competition - akin to a home run derby after 10 innings of a tied baseball game - to settle the score after 65 minutes probably will never go away.

And with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire this summer, the opportunity exists to make another round of significant rule changes. But commissioner Gary Bettman made it sound as if this tiebreaker is here to stay.

"All the research that we do on a regular basis tells us overwhelmingly our fans like the shootout," Bettman said during All-Star weekend in Ottawa. "We're looking at numbers in the 70 and 80 percent approval range, which on any question is an extraordinarily high number."

After the labor dispute canceled the 2004-05, fans needed to be won back. The tiebreaker was added to try to make the game exciting enough for casual or bitter fans to come to the arena again.

"People want to see somebody win. They want to walk away without an empty feeling like, 'Wow, that was a really good tie tonight,'" said Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team has had 10 shootouts this season, tied for most in the NHL.

One potential downside is the creation of artificial parity, since one point is awarded to the loser in an overtime or shootout game.

According to STATS LLC, 164 of 735 games this season have been tied after three periods. That means 22.3 percent of the time there are three points awarded in a game instead of two. The chase for playoff spots thickens this way, but teams with essentially losing records can wind up looking better in the standings than they are.

Of those 164 tie games, 95 have been decided by a shootout. That's nearly 58 percent.

CROSBY NEWS: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skated before practice Monday. He had a 45-minute workout alongside injured teammates Jordan Staal and Simon Despres. This was the first time he skated with teammates since returning from California, where L.A.-based neurological spine specialist Dr. Robert S. Bray revealed Crosby had fractured vertebrae in his neck. Crosby has missed all but eight games this season with concussion-like symptoms

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Despite last week's controversy surrounding the team's White House visit, Bruins GM general manager Peter Chiarelli said goaltender Tim Thomas isn't going anywhere. "Not trading him," Chiarelli told ESPN.com in an email. "I have not talked to anyone and I don't plan to." ... Carolina signed defenseman Tim Gleason to a four-year extension worth $16 million, through the 2015-16 season.

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