NHL Shootouts Need to End Once & For All

Imagine this scenario for a moment.

Two teams just played an incredible game. There was up and down action that had the arena in a frenzy. The home team scored late to tie the game at two. Overtime is next. Anticipation is through the roof.

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Overtime doesn’t disappoint. The three-on-three allowed for insane scoring chances both ways. Both goalies stood on their heads to keep the puck out of the net. There was even a goal post hit. Hearts are racing.

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But then, the clock in overtime hits 0:00. Nobody scores the game winner. Ugh. The reality of what comes next starts to set in. You know exactly what comes next. And if you’re like me, you are filled with bitter disappointment.

After all that heart-stopping action, the game will now be decided by a shootout. It’s the ultimate letdown. That’s because the game is about to end in the most anti-climatic way ever. It’s time for a change.

Shootouts Have Run Their Course

Let’s turn back the clock to 2005. The NHL was coming out of a lockout. The league was looking for things to implement into the game that would make it more exciting.

Back then, among the many things fans were complaining about, it was the number of games that didn’t result in a winner. Tie games were a thing.

What fans didn’t like about ties were how many seemed to be happening. They wanted a definitive winner in each game. That’s a big reason why the shootout came into effect.

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At first, the shootout was well received. We got to see the best players in the world face the best goalies in the world with standing’s points on the line. The arenas got loud when the opposition’s shooter was approaching their goalie. There was a legitimate buzz about the shootout. It was new. It was fresh. The lockout was also over. Times were good.

But as time has gone on, the excitement that the shootout brought at first has faded into disappointment. It’s even to the point now that players even think the shootout is stupid.

Blue Jackets’ defenseman Zach Werenski is on record as saying the shootout is stupid. He said this after a recent game against John Gibson and the Anaheim Ducks where not surprisingly, the game was decided in a shootout. Here’s what Werenski said after his team lost 2-1 in the shootout.

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“That was our game. Sucks that it’s a shootout. I think shootouts are stupid. I think if we go into overtime even longer, we probably win that game.” There’s no mincing words here.

The fact that a star came out and spoke these words should carry extra weight. You can’t imagine that Werenski is alone in this feeling. Other players are likely thinking the same thing. And there’s no question the fans think shootouts are outdated. When you commonly see the shootout being referenced as a “skills competition”, it tells you everything you need to know about what the shootout actually is.

So one question for you to consider. Why should any skills competition decide the outcome of a game? A team could be playing the best game of their life and then have the outcome decided by three shots and lose. Conversely, a team could be playing the worst game of their life and still have a chance at two points. Outcomes need to be decided by the actual gameplay on the ice.

The NHL Stands Alone

Here’s something else to consider. Compare the NHL to the other major sports leagues in terms of how their games end. You’ll notice a theme.

In basketball, games are decided in regulation or as many overtimes as required. In baseball, although they changed the rule in extra innings to having a runner at second to start, the game was still decided in the course of game action no matter how many innings it took. In the NFL, they play a 10-minute overtime period and then the game ends in a tie if the score remains tied after those 10 minutes.

What don’t you see within these three sports? You don’t see any kind of gimmicks that directly decide the outcome of a game. There’s no three-point or free throw competition after overtime ends. There’s no homerun derby if the game gets through 12 innings without a winner. And there’s no give the team the ball at the 25 in the NFL. Game play dictates the end result.

In the NHL, the potential still exists for a gimmick to decide a game. This is why Werenski called the shootout stupid. But that’s not the only thing the NHL stands alone on in comparison to other leagues. The current points system in the NHL is just as dumb as the shootout is.

Zach Werenski Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski certainly is not alone in thinking that shootouts are stupid. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As it stands now, any game that goes beyond regulation becomes a three-point game. That’s because the two teams each get a point for getting to overtime and one team will get a second point for winning. Nobody else does this. It didn’t make sense when the NHL put this in effect. It doesn’t make sense now.

Why are they awarding losing? A loss should not increase your point total in any way, shape or form, ever. Yet the NHL has operated this way for years. So unless there’s enough of an uprising league-wide, we’ll likely continue seeing this trend.

What To Do About Deciding Games?

Now the big question. What method should the NHL use to decide games that is fair for everyone involved, keeps the outcome decided by the actual gameplay and limits each game to two available points?

Most obviously, the shootout needs to end once and for all. It was nice for a little bit but now isn’t effective as a method of deciding games. In place of the shootout, go back to the way things used to be but with two changes.

The first change? What’s wrong with a 10-minute overtime period? Let the players decide the game the best way they know how. But the other change? Make it four-on-four for 10 minutes. First team to score gets two points. The other team gets zero points. No more of this three-point game stuff. And if you need to break a tie in points later, simply give the advantage to the team with the most regulation wins.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly
The NHL needs to reinstitute ties in place of the shootout. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In the event both teams don’t score in overtime, award each team one point. Go back to ties. They’re not the worst thing in the world. If a team can’t win in 70 minutes, they don’t deserve more than one point in a game.

In Conclusion

To summarize, it’s long past time to eliminate the shootout. When NHL players think the shootout is stupid, you know it is. Then reinstitute the tie after a 10-minute overtime period where it’s four-on-four. No more three-point games.

To go from the excitement of a game and overtime to a shootout is non-sensical. The shootout shouldn’t have this much weight in determining the standings and playoff positions. Going back to ties allows winning to be rewarded. If you want two points, go win the game yourself.

Hopefully in time the NHL will see how silly the shootout actually is and do something about it. It would be for the good of the game and everyone involved.

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