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Shootouts are down throughout the NHL, has league gone far enough?

Mar 18, 2011, 9:31 PM EST

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Few topics will spark as much debate as the shootout. Passionate old-school fans will say it’s a gimmicky skills competition that has no business deciding games. Other fans will say it’s one of the most exciting things in the sport and is a vast improvement upon the dreaded tie that used to decide too many hockey games. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, most people will acknowledge that the shootout is here to stay for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, some attention is being focused on the effect the shootout has on the game as opposed to debating the shootout’s place in the game.

Teams are certainly learning to attack the end of games, overtime, and the shootout in different ways as they acclimate themselves to the change. Since the lockout, we’ve seen coaches start to veer away strictly putting superstars in the skills competition and start putting in guys who simply excel at the shootout. We’ve even seen the genesis of a new term in the hockey fan’s lexicon: “Shootout specialist.” You can decide if that’s a good thing or not.

It was decided by the NHL that something needed to change with the shootout. It wasn’t going anywhere, but they decided to water down the value of those wins that came via shootout. More importantly, they wanted to increase the value of any win that was earned by the entire team on the ice instead of the 1-on-1 showdown. (Of course, when we say “entire team,” we’re including 4-on-4 overtimes). The rule change is simple—and subtle: when two teams are tied at the end of the season, the first tiebreaker will be wins NOT acquired via shootout.

As the season winds down, it looks like the NHL may have succeeded. From NHL.com:

“Through 1,065 games this season, there have been 124 shootouts, a pace that would result in 143 over a full 1,230-game season. That’s a 22 percent drop from the 184 shootouts last season, and two fewer than the 145 in 2005-06, the first season the tiebreaker was used to settle games that were even after overtime.

It’s not that a lot more games are being decided in regulation — the 23.8 percent of games tied after 60 minutes are just slightly fewer than last season’s 24.5 percent (254 so far; 283 over a 1,230-game season, down from 301 in 2009-10), and still more than any of the four previous seasons since the arrival of the shootout. But while 61.1 percent of games that went into overtime last season went to a shootout, that figure is down to 48.8 percent — a number that would be the lowest in the shootout’s six seasons.”

For those fans who want games decided by 5 skaters playing against 5 others, this should be viewed as a positive development. It might not be exactly what they want, but certainly baby steps in the right direction. The games have been extremely exciting and increasingly it appears that teams want to win the game in OT instead of sitting back for the shootout.

Let’s throw this out to the readers. Judging by the statistics, fewer games are being decided in the shootout. Do you think the NHL has gone far enough to discourage teams playing for the shootout or do you think weighing victories as a tiebreaker is enough? We’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

  1. quixotissimo - Mar 18, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    The shootout isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than a tie, but it also creates the problem where some games are worth three points in the standings and others are worth only two. If they’re going to keep the shootout then make every game worth three points. Three points for a win in regulation, two points for an OT/SO win and one point for an OT/SO loss. Bettman is opposed to this idea, as it could have a huge impact on how teams play the game, so why not try it out in the AHL for a year and see how it works out?

  2. polegojim - Mar 19, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    Matt – so is the obvious assumption that teams are playing harder for overtime wins, rather than coasting into a shootout?

    Any light on the logic of not doing that previously?

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