Defending the Shootout’s Place in the NHL

Now here’s an opinion you will hardly ever hear around hockey circles: I actually don’t mind the shootout. Sometimes I think it has found its place in hockey. Other times I see it for the gimmick it is and find it hard to rectify it’s spot in the National Hockey League.

But I find myself leaning more towards the former opinion, especially when my heart is pounding during the middle of a shootout in late November. I wouldn’t be overly upset at its removal from hockey, but I must be the only person left who actually likes the shootout. The shootout at least doesn’t deserve the hate that it receives.

Everything That’s Wrong with the Shootout

First, I’ll list everything that’s wrong with the shootout because it is far from perfect. A great example of the problems with the shootout occurred during the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins tilt Saturday November 15.

Having a regular season hockey game end like that and giving the Penguins a victory over something that seems so trivial may give hockey, the 60 minute iteration at least, a bad name. Rules are rules, and Dan Boyle broke them. Yet I bet everyone, besides Penguins fans at least, aren’t all too thrilled such a highly contested game ended the way it did.

The biggest gripe with the shootout I really have is that shootout wins at the end of the season look just the same as regulation time wins. Montreal has the most shootout wins in the league so far, at 4, and is atop the standings in the NHL.

The shootout also means the NHL is the only league of the four major North American sports to have its regular season games end differently than in the playoffs. Baseball takes it sweet time deciding games and Basketball does as well. Sure regular season NFL games can end in ties , where in the playoffs they can’t, but the rules and type of gameplay deciding each remains the same.

This surrounding context places the NHL as the league that decides a team game with an individual skills contest. A growing trend also has been teams have been playing more passively in the 5 minute overtime in order to try their hand in the shootout.

And frankly, I don’t find this fact all to disheartening.

The Shootout isn’t all that Bad

Christian Peterson/Getty Images
Patrick Kane is much watch T.V. in the shootout. Christian Peterson/Getty Images

The shootout doesn’t necessarily ruin good hockey games. If a team were to lose in the shootout, they would leave the rink thinking they didn’t play well enough over the course of a 65-minute game to come away victors. If the same game were to end in a tie, the same sentiment would hold.

The shootout itself may be more inconsequential to the final standings than some may claim. Montreal this season, as pointed to earlier, is leading the NHL in both the standings and shootout wins. But it is still early in the season and the standings seem to even themselves out in the end.

Of the top 5 teams in shootout wins a season ago, 3 didn’t make the playoffs. The President’s Trophy winner, Boston Bruins, went a paltry .333 in the shootout in 2013/14 as well. The team that the shootout harmed the most was the New Jersey Devils, as they fell 5 points out of a wild card spot in part to their 0 and 13 performance in the shootout.

“Over the 2013 NHL season, the average SO Wins among NHL teams was 5.93. The top 5 NHL teams averaged a SO Wins of 2 while the bottom 5 teams averaged a SO Wins of 9.4.” – Sporting Chart

The teams that have the better shooters isn’t always indicative of if that squad is a good one or not, and in the long run that shows. I love watching the shootout and it does exactly what it’s intended to do: showcase the league’s talent.

A team that loses in a shootout has done no worse nor better than a tie. Any intelligent hockey person knows that. The awarding of the extra point may be unfair, but that single point doesn’t mean as much in the standings as the awarding of that point does from a principle stand point. People don’t like having wins decided by the shootout, yet having a team win is a more complete ending to a game than having each team leave in a tie.

As a final point, I will leave you with the best shootout goals from a season ago:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K6csGLQdyg

I would miss watching Patrick Kane stare down his opponent’s goaltender if the shootout was removed. Some of Kane’s shootout goals are the best highlights of the entire season. I would miss a lot of those highlight reel shootout goals.

Where does that leave us?

The shootout isn’t nearly as bad as the hate it has received since its incarnation. It is relatively inconsequential in the final standings and provides, sometimes, the most exciting and suspenseful parts of a hockey game. People decrying its existence may be doing so from a principle stand point because the NHL is still stuck between modern hockey and an old timer’s mantra.

The ultimate fix to this whole situation is for the NHL to adopt European soccer league’s scoring where a win is 3 points and a draw 1. But since that notion doesn’t seem to be something that will be adopted any time soon, we’re stuck with the shootout. And that isn’t a bad thing.