The Shootout; the NHL’s Smartest Decision?

It’s quite the debate, something that nearly every hockey fan has an opinion on. Many feel that the shootout is an offensive showcase and an unfair way to decide a game. Others love the primetime offensive show and feel that it adds an extra element to regular season hockey. What’s your opinion?

The Shootout

The shootout is a fairly new aspect of the NHL, having been introduced as the official tie breaker in 2005-06. Other sports, such as soccer, have been using a shootout much longer. Fresh off of the 2014 World Cup, many were raising the same questions about just how fair it was to decide a game with so much magnitude in a shootout. The shootout was first used as a tiebreaker in the World Cup in 1978 and have decided 26 knockout stage games since, including two World Cup Champions in 1994 and 2006.

Whether or not it’s right in soccer is one thing, but hockey is a much different game. Everyone can agree that the shootout has no place in the playoffs; it would take away the excitement of those three overtime marathon games and the game seven overtime winners that we all look forward to every post-season.

(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

But Regular Season Hockey is very, very Different than the Playoffs

And that’s where the argument should begin. Playoff hockey is about who’s the best team and therefore, teams play until the better men win. Regular season hockey is an 82 game marathon to get to the playoffs, and to get there healthy, teams like New Jersey and Chicago (who lost 18 and 15 games respectfully in OT during the 2013-14 regular season) would limp into the playoffs and it would be very difficult to make a Stanley Cup run.

Or take the Washington Capitals who played a league high 21 shootouts in 2013-14; that’s at least 21 games that they would’ve played more than 65 minutes of hockey. Add those minutes up and when they match-up with the New York Rangers or the Columbus Blue Jackets in the playoffs, (both whom only had to play 7 shootouts), the Caps are at a sudden disadvantage.

What the shootout does is even the playing field and places a maximum amount of minutes that a team can play during the regular season. Again, the NHL playoffs are special and in order for the quality of hockey to be top notch, the best teams have to be healthy. Taking the shootout out of the regular season risks taking some of the leagues best players out of the playoffs due to injury; the shootout takes away some of that injury risk.

Are there other ways the NHL could act and reduce injury and prevent excess minutes being played in the regular season? Yes. But for now, the shootout is what we have.

Simply Put, It’s Good For Hockey.

Hockey is a unique sport and as fans and media, we build up the quality of playoff hockey all year long just to have our expectations bested year after year. If the regular season shootout was taken out of the game, the quality of playoff hockey would decrease because teams wouldn’t be as healthy come April.

The longest game in NHL history played nearly 120 minutes of overtime hockey; that’s almost three full hockey games in a single night. The quality of play in the NHL is directly correlated to the quality of players in the league and if we allow the chance for them to play that much hockey in one night, the NHL becomes a lot less fun to watch in April and May.

Forget the fact that the shootout ended ties in hockey, but it improves the quality of play and hey, in some cases, inspires a country…

and oh by the way, the NHL regular season shootout leader in 2013-14; TJ Oshie.

Are there other ways to end a game sooner? Yes, absolutely! I’d love to see a 4v4 five minute period followed by a 3v3 five minute period. But these are alternatives that need time to be tested. So for now, a shootout is what we have.

Now it’s your turn; what do you think about the shootout? We want to hear from you. Leave comments or interact on Twitter using the hashtag #THW. Read fellow #THW writer Dan Rice’s article on shootouts and hear how other #THW writers feel about the situation.

I’d also urge you to read another view of the situation, written by CBS’s Chris Peters.

“The shootout… isn’t going anywhere.”

My Final Take:

The shootout has become a part of the regular season and as much as I’d like to see a better way for a game to be decided, I doubt change will be enacted any time soon.

Brady Smith

Brady Smith

Smith is currently a student at West Virginia University. He's a hockey enthusiast and currently covers the Penguins for The Hockey Writers. Follow him on twitter @BSmithWV
Brady Smith

2 Comments

  1. 1) Ties don’t suck, contrary to the premise of this article. The shootout was brought in only as a gimmick to try and get more highlights on BSPN Sportscenter. Now that BSPN is no longer the rights holder, you can see how they treat the NHL on their highlight show. If the NHL went back to the system in 98-99, the basic 2 for a win, 1 for a tie I wouldn’t shed one tear, and I’m not the only one.

    2) I get that you can’t do unlimited OT in the regular season because hockey is scheduled different than baseball. (Very seldom the same opponents in back-to-back games, whereas baseball is always 2-, 3-, or 4-game series in the regular season.) So the longer OT goes, the more of a disadvantage it is to a team that played OT in the last game compared to a team that only played a regulation game. In theory, this would balance out over time.

    This is also the reason the shootout is sadly necessary in elimination rounds in short tournaments like the Olympics.

    Still I think getting an increase from 5 to 8 minutes wouldn’t be so bad. The AHL is going to experiment with a 7 minute OT this coming season, though it’s going to be 4 on 4, followed by 3 on 3 after a whistle once 3 minutes have been played.

    3) Put a premium on regulation wins. It is perverse that teams that win 60 minute games are rewarded exactly the same (except for a tiebreaker) than teams that play for a shootout and win the freeroll for the second point. As soon as the IIHF adopted the system of 3 points for a reg win, 1 point for a tie, and then a 2nd point for an OT/SO winner, the NHL should have followed suit if in the fact the shootout is here to stay. The OT point and Shootouts have already killed the comparison argument.

  2. John Saquella says:

    The simple fact is, shootouts really haven’t eliminated ties from hockey. The hockey game still ended in a tie. The winner of the shootout didn’t win a hockey game, they won a skills competition.

    It’s akin to two baseball teams being tied at the end of 9 innings, and instead of playing it out, having a home run competition. Or two basketball teams playing H-O-R-S-E to decide a winner. The game ended in a tie.

    Just as in the days before the “Loser Point”(or guaranteed point for making it to the end of regulation tied), when some teams would make it to OT and then simply try to hang on to lock up the point rather than go out trying to win, the shootout was brought in to eliminate teams stilling back to get a tie & walk out of the game with some kind of standings point. Now, teams play for the shootout, which often leads to five boring minutes, then a convoluted skills competition.

    I started despising the shootout in 1994, when Peter Forsberg’s “Golden” goal won the Olympics for Sweden. It’s a bad idea to decide the outcome of a game by doing anything besides playing the game.

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