NHL: Shootouts, 3 Points For A Win, A Tie?

The shootout is an interesting subject–not only for the NHL–but multiple other worldwide sports. Many people grizzle at the concept of deciding any sports game with a skills contest. However, such decent is always met with the reply that the shootout is a ‘necessary evil’ of modern sports.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reinforced his stance recently that the shootout is here to stay while also reiterating his hope that the newly introduced 3-on-3 overtime will reduce the number of games that even make it to a shootout.

P.A. Parenteau
2014: P.A. Parenteau scores the game winning goal in a shootout against Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ray Emery (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

“I think to the extent some people wanted to see fewer shootouts, this [3-on-3 OT] will get us there, and that’s fine. The shootout isn’t going anywhere,” Bettman told the Boston Globe in an interview with Amalie Benjamin. “You go to a building during a shootout, everybody’s on their feet, nobody is leaving, which is what it was designed to do. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s entertaining, and so if we’re going to try and reduce the number of shootouts, this may do it.”

Bettman continued, “I think you see some people in the hockey community say they’d rather see fewer shootouts, but this is a sport that had ties for so many years and nobody liked that. And we’re not in the position in the regular season for a whole host of reasons to play games to the end in sudden death the way we do in the playoffs.”

The Horror of a Tied Game

Bettman’s last statement is quite telling; but what is wrong with returning to the idea of one, single extra period during a regular season NHL game and giving both teams a point if the score remains deadlocked? A majority of all NHL teams hate what the shootout does to the standings, so is it time to do what nearly every other team sport outside of North America does, i.e., institute the concept of neither team winning?

The 3-on-3 overtime next season is a step in the right direction in cutting down on shootouts, but why not go a step further and offer up three points for teams that win in regulation? Or even three points for teams that win in either regulation or during the extra period?

A good example of a national league changing from two points for a win to three points for a win is the English soccer league; that league operated for almost 100 years with a system that awarded teams two points for a win, one point for a tie, and (of course) zero points for a loss. In the early 1980s the league made the subtle change to a three points for a win system. Not surprisingly, the new rule made each soccer team play much harder for the win, rather than settle for one point – because the stakes were much higher. The English soccer league, and a vast majority of all worldwide soccer leagues, incorporate three points for a win.

Shootouts: Skills Competition

Ultimately, the art of hockey is lessened when a game is ended by a skills competition. At least there is no shootout during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Imagine the Stanley Cup Final games ending the same way soccer’s World Cup games sometimes end: The biggest prize in the sport decided by which players’ nerves hold up and which players cave under the pressure.

However, all of the anti-shootout sentiment doesn’t matter to Bettman, who is on record as saying “overwhelmingly, fans like [the shootout].” And that’s the crux of the matter. As long as the ticket-buying fans are OK with the current system, nothing will change. It’s all about people in the seats.