NHL Shootouts

Oct 7, 2014


In June of 1983, the NHL introduced a regular-season overtime period of five minutes and if the game was still tied after the extra time, both teams were awarded a point. The NHL was attempting to cut down on tie games and it was a good idea because to the paying fans a tie game was akin to kissing your sister. However, in 2005 the NHL decided to eliminate ties entirely with the introduction of the shootout. The NHL was the last of the big pro sports (MLB, NFL and NBA) to try and eliminate ties. However, unlike the other pro sports, the NHL decides way too many games with a skills contest. That would be like the NBA deciding games with a free throw shooting contest or the NFL deciding games by having the kicker attempt a field goal from, let’s say the 30-yard line, and moving back five yards every kick until someone missed. Can you imagine MLB deciding games by a home-run hitting contest if the game was tied after nine innings? It’s actually ludicrous that after nine years, the shootout, a skills contest, is the number one determining factor of which teams makes the playoffs and which teams do not. How is that ok?

In the eight years since the shootout was introduced, 34 teams missed the playoffs by five points or less. That’s equivalent to roughly four teams every season having their playoff fate decided by a skills contest. The average number of ties after regulation for each team over that span was 20 ties per year and about one third of those were decided in the extra five minutes. That leaves roughly 14 points up for grabs in shootouts and therefore 34 teams over the past eight years had their season defined by the shootout. There is nothing skillful about coming down on a breakaway and scoring without a defender there. Even the best players can be awful at the shootout. Some teams getting lucky/unlucky in the shootout will ultimately be the difference between who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t and that is the most insane part about this.

Last season, the New Jersey Devils lost 18 games by way of the shootout and missed the playoffs by 5 points. Columbus lost just 7 shootouts and made the playoffs. There are a number of teams from last season that either missed or made the playoffs because of their shootout record.  One could argue that it’s the same for every team and that’s a valid argument but let’s take it a step further. If shootouts ultimately decide who gets in and who doesn’t, why change formats in the playoffs? If it’s good enough for the regular season then it should good enough for the playoffs, should it not? That wouldn’t go over well because it would make the playoff system a complete and utter farce. The other leagues don’t “change” the rules in the playoffs but the NHL does. It’s enough already. The point is that the shootout is a farce and it makes the NHL point system during the regular season a farce too. It’s time to do away with it.  

Why don’t GM’s sign or look for players that can dazzle in the shootout but can’t play a regular shift in the NHL? Surely there has to be a bevy of players that will never make the NHL but that can score at least 50% of the time or more on a breakaway with nobody defending. That would be their role. They would be a shootout specialist and they would make the biggest difference between missing and making the playoffs for several teams. Some 4th line players get 2 or 3 shifts a game so replacingthat roster spot with a guy that'll make a difference in shootouts seems very logical. Why hasn’t this happened yet? It doesn’t make any sense that out of 30 teams, not one GM, coach or owner has realized that the shootout is the difference between their team missing or making the playoffs.

Hockey is a GREAT sport, perhaps the best spectator sport in the world but the way they decide the playoff fate of 10-15 “bubble teams” is a huge flaw. It must go.