The NHL shootout was introduced following the 2004 lockout. After losing the entire season, the NHL wanted to make its game more exciting to bring its fans back.
The main changes included eliminating the 2-line pass, adding a trapezoid to limit goalies’ ability to play the puck, establishing the Winter Classic outdoor game…and the shootout.
The removal of the 2-line pass and the addition of the trapezoid were implemented to speed up the game, while the Winter Classic brought a large public display of the game through its outdoor roots.
The shootout was added to prevent the game from ending in a tie, a concept that was vastly popular and very exciting to watch. The fans in most stadiums still stand up through the entire shootout.
But to the hardcore fans, the shootout needs to go. It is not because it's not exciting, it's not because it's not fun, and it certainly isn't that we want ties. It is simply not part of the game and still has become so pertinent to the standings year in and year out.
Ice hockey is the ultimate team sport; a shootout is simply 3 rounds of one-on-one that is meant to determine what 65 minutes could not.
There is a reason why shootouts are not used in playoff games: it is because you do not get a true winner. The game is for the team to decide the outcome, not any single player, who has a fancy move up his sleeve.
Every year certain teams are great on the shootouts while others are terrible. Since 2004, the New Jersey Devils have won a league-high 54 shootouts (64 percent of their shootouts) while the Flyers have won a league-low 23 (35 percent). This means that the Devils average 4.4 points more than the Flyers every single season due to shootouts alone.
By that measure, Philadelphia must win 3 regulation games more than New Jersey each season to outrank them in the standings.
The shootout issue is very important moving forward, especially in this shortened season, where every point means even more. A perfect example: the Flyers' Feb. 7 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, a game in which they had in control and then lost the lead. Philadelphia then dominated overtime, yet lost in the shootout, ceding a valuable point to a conference foe they may be battling come playoff time. Florida’s shooters simply had better moves than the Flyers so they were rewarded the last point, despite the fact that they were outplayed in the team aspect of the game.
Every year shootouts heavily affect the standings. And as a shootout win earns a team the exact same amount of points as a win in regulation, this unfairly weighs the balance of the competition.
By the Numbers
Here are some examples of the impact the shootout has had on the playoff position of teams just in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils ended the season tied for the division lead with the Flyers and 1 point ahead of the Rangers. The Devils won the tiebreaker over the Flyers because they had more wins—5 more shootout wins than Flyers and 2 more shootout wins than the Rangers.
That same season, the Toronto Maple Leafs missed the playoffs by just 2 points; they had lost 7 shootouts.
The bubble teams (teams fighting for the final playoff spot) were the Tampa Bay Lightning, NY Islanders, and Toronto Maple Leafs, all fighting for the final 2 spots. The Lightning had 10 shootout wins, the Islanders had 8 shootout wins, and the Leafs had 4.
Which teams do you think made the playoffs? That’s right: Tampa Bay and New York.
Boston beat Carolina for the 8th spot in the East by 2 points. The Bruins won 4 more shootouts than the Hurricanes.
Three bubble teams for 2 spots: the NY Rangers, who won 10 shootouts, the Montreal Canadiens, who won 7 shootouts, and the Florida Panthers, who won 3 shootouts (and lost 8 shootouts).
Florida missed the playoffs, ending up just 2 points behind the 7th-place Rangers and losing a tie-breaker to the 8th-place Canadiens.
The entire season was put on the line in a shootout in the final game of the year for the Flyers and the Rangers, who were tied in the standings. The winner would make the playoffs, while the loser would go home. The Flyers won the shootout, made the playoffs, and ultimately went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Rangers clinched the 8th seed over the Hurricanes by 2 points. New York won 9 games in the shootout; Carolina only won 5.
The Buffalo Sabres ended the season in 9th place, missing the playoffs by 3 points. They lost 7 shootouts that season.
Winning shootouts doesn't always lead to success, however.
The NY Islanders had 9 shootout wins (tied for most in East) and finished 12th.
Boston won 9 shootouts and finished in 13th place.
The Atlanta Thrashers finished with the most shootout wins in the East (9), yet finished 14th in the Conference.
The Edmonton Oilers won an all-time NHL-high 15 shootouts, yet still missed the playoffs. (In the 7-year existence of the shootout, Edmonton has won the 5th-most in league history, yet has only made the playoffs once.)
The Colorado Avalanche won a Western-Conference-high 9 shootouts and still finished dead last.
The Minnesota Wild won a Conference-best 11 shootouts, yet finished 12th.
Skilled players, skills competition
If one team has better shooters, it literally could be the worst team in the league but can still have the upper hand with just 2 better players than its opponent.
Since the shootout’s inception in 2004, the New Jersey Devils’ 3 leading scorers prior to this season were Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias, who have combined for 71 career shootout goals. By comparison, the entire Flyers roster has only combined for 61 goals from 16 different players.
Also, it helps to have arguably the best goaltender in hockey, Martin Brodeur, in your corner. Brodeur has won 42 of the Devils’ 54 shootout victories, while the Flyers have used 8 different goalies to win 23 shootouts.
The winningest goaltenders in shootout history are all superstars. Six of the top 7 goalies who have 30 wins or more in the shootout are not only all-star goalies but Olympic selections as well: Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Andre Fleury, Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo.
The point here is that if you have more skilled breakaway players/goaltender then you will gain more points from the shootout throughout the season, despite how good the rest of your team is.
13 percent of all games
For something that weighs so heavily in making the playoffs, shootouts are too prevalent: 13.2% of all games per season (162.7 games a year) go to a shootout, which means 486 points come from shootout games alone. That is way too many.
So let's get to the main point. Nobody wants to see a tie (see: NFL); however, the shootout needs be harder to get to, or be worth less in the standings. It was a novelty at first, but now it’s happening much too often.
Teams that know they have more success on the shootout often play defensively during the overtime just to force a shootout. Roughly 22% of games require overtime, which means only 9% actually end during the 5-minute extra session.
3 ways to fix it
1. A longer 4-on-4 overtime before the shootout. Playing 10 minutes instead of 5 should lead to more chances and hopefully more (game-deciding) goals.
2. Make regulation and overtime wins worth 3 points, shootout wins worth 2, and overtime/shootout losses worth 1 point. This would give teams more incentive to win during the game instead of waiting for the shootout.
3. My favorite—and the most radical suggestion—was made by Detroit GM Ken Holland: play a normal 4-on-4 for 5 minutes, then a 3-on-3 for another 5-minute session. Then if the game still isn't over, go to a shootout. Playing 3 on 3 would be wide-open hockey, and the fans would absolutely love it.
Think about all the odd-man rush possibilities: breakaways, 2-on-1’s, 2-on-0’s, and 3-on-1’s. It would be great for the fans and it's still part of the game. Shootouts would still be used but much less often.
All three of these options would decrease the number of shootouts per year (13.2%) by either making them harder to get to or less important. Either way, that is forward progress toward the way the game should be played.