NHL Shootouts: Is It Time For A Change?

Is it time to get rid of the shootout in the NHL? It is the only of the four major sports that has a tiebreaking method in the regular season that doesn’t match up with how ties are broken in the playoffs. But we all know that NHL playoff overtime is a different animal; games can go on for hours, which make the NHL playoffs one of the best times of the year. As hockey fans, we sit at the edge of our seats and live and die with each shot during sudden death overtime, knowing every shot could be the one that sends a city/fan base into extreme euphoria or immediate depression.

Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks
The shootout gives us the drama of one shooter versus a goalie, but should the NHL change its tiebreaker? (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)


We recently polled 26 contributors at the Hockey Writers about the NHL’s current OT format (4 v 4 for five minutes, followed by a three-shooter shootout). They were encouraged to submit votes for other formats they would be interested in seeing.

  • The majority (9 votes) opted for a ten minute OT period of 4 v 4 and if no winning goal was scored the result would be a tie; no shootout.
  • Five writers voted to keep the format as is.
  • Four writers voted for 4 v 4 for five minutes, followed by 3 v 3 for five minutes, if no winning goal was scored the result would be a tie; again no shootout.
  • Four writers voted that they weren’t sure, but want to find a way to eliminate the loser point that comes when a team loses in overtime or a shootout.

Other options that garnered votes were interesting, but basically variations of the same idea:

  • A ten minute 4 v 4 OT followed by a five-shooter shootout.
  • A ten minute 4 v 4 OT with a running clock (no stoppages).
  • A ten minute 4 v 4 OT followed by a three-shooter shootout.

Before he scored his OT goal vs the Rangers in the playoffs, Adam Henrique had this winner against Winnipeg during the season:

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The Hockey Writers recently asked two members of the New Jersey Devils about eliminating the shootout and adding another five minutes to the overtime period. Both basically took the high road, admitting that the format is what it is and they don’t really have a problem with it at this time. This was even after they had just lost in a shootout that saw each team send out six shooters and only one goal was scored.

When we asked Travis Zajac if he’d be in favor of another five minutes in overtime as opposed to the shootout, he grinned broadly and replied, “Tonight yeah, just because we lost. But I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s going to change or not. I don’t have an opinion one way or another.” He paused for a second and added, “You’d like to pick up that extra point tonight and maybe a ten-minute overtime would have gone in our favor.”

Travis Zajac Devils
Travis Zajac is mobbed by teammates after scoring an OT winner in the 2012 playoffs. (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)


We also asked the captain of the Devils, Bryce Salvador, the same question about moving towards a ten-minute period of four-on-four in sudden death overtime. “No, that’s just getting too long. I think the format they have now is the format we play,” he said. “We don’t need to tack on anymore time. Especially with back-to-back games, something like that would just be a little too much (in my opinion).”

That last part was interesting; as fans and media members we often think, ‘what’s another five minutes?’ But in reality, that’s five more minutes of intense game action that could add up over an 82-game season, five more minutes that could result in an unnecessary injury, and five more minutes of time that everyone (media, players, arena workers, team officials, etc.) would have to stay at the arena for.

Joe Louis Arena Detroit Red Wings
Most fans want to come to an arena to see a team win, and NHL shootouts always produce a winner. (DrVenkman/Wikimedia Commons


There were some interesting discussions that followed the poll question from our team; here are some of the highlights:

Mark Wallace Graham: I like the shootout aspect of it; I think it adds more excitement to an already exciting game. The only thing I would change about the current format is the losing team getting a point. If you lose a game, you shouldn’t get rewarded for it.

Douglas Cutler: I can’t really get on board with any new options. I like the current format, it is exciting to have open ice with back and forth play, even if it is only for 5 minutes. The shootout system awards a team for playing 65 minutes of good hockey, and further rewards the shootout winner with an extra point. Shootouts are exciting for the fans and you have to have two good elements to win it – good goaltending and solid shooters.

Josh Smith: I’ve done the analysis (and would happily do it again) — eliminating the loser point doesn’t change a whole lot in the standings, but it does make it a lot simpler to follow the standings. I’m all for 2pts for a win, 0 pts for a loss regardless of how it happens.

Here is a top ten list of NHL shootouts, compiled by TSN:

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Bruce Hollingdrake: My view is 2 points for a win, 1 for a tie; a five or ten minute overtime, no shootout. If two teams battle it out, even going into extended time, and still finish deadlocked it’s called a tie game — why impose an artificial gimmick just to say somebody won when they in fact did not win a hockey game, they were just better at taking shots.

Sean Griffin: I feel like the shootout has run its course. It was great coming out of the lockout (in 2005) since it gave fans something new and exciting but its ultimately not a great way to decide a game in such a team oriented sport. I’d be fine seeing ties again but you’ve got to give teams some kind of incentive to do more than just play for a tie to make sure they salvage a point.

Kevin Goff: Really dying to get rid of the shoot out. I have never been a fan of the idea of three individuals deciding whether or not a team wins the game. 4-on-4 for ten minutes should be plenty of time for exciting action.

Andrew Ladd
Everyone loves a hero, and there’s always a hero in NHL shootouts.(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)


It’s likely there won’t be any changes coming soon to the current format. The next time you are watching a game or at the arena, look in the stands; you will see just about everyone on their feet anticipating what is going to happen. It’s true that the shootout has taken some of the appeal out of penalty shots (the most exciting play in hockey until 2005), but we have seen some great drama unfold in shootouts in this new era of NHL hockey.

The New York Rangers & Washington Capitals had one of the most epic battles in an NHL shootout:

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Personally, I’d like to see 4-on-4 played for ten minutes and think that eventually there would be a goal scored; and I’ve always hated ties. But I also agree with what Bruce said about the shootout being gimmicky and an unfair solution to ending a hockey game. If you have an opinion on this let us know in the comments section below.

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: drdiablo321@yahoo.com

11 thoughts on “NHL Shootouts: Is It Time For A Change?”

  1. Dan-
    Last night’s Stars Sharks game illuminated for me what I don’t like about the format–both teams can leave with very different views of the same game. The Stars can say “We won and handed SJ their first loss” while SJ can say “We’re still undefeated in regulation.”

    • I agree. After attending so many over the years, whether a team wins or loses I always come away with an unsatisfied feeling. Being in locker rooms after some of them, when they win the players are surely happy with taking the two points, but when they lose, they dismiss it as they only lost a skills competition

  2. I’m always hearing how wide open play is in OT because it’s 4 on 4, but I believe that fact that both teams are guaranteed the “loser point” and are now battling for the extra point is also a contributing factor. Since the third point is always being complained about why not make all games three point games? 3 points for a regulation win and 2 for an OT/SO win and 1 for an OT/SO loss. By the way.. I’d vote for 10 minute OT and 5 round shootout.

    • I like that idea. Personally I usually feel like the 4 v 4 OT for ten minutes will probably result in a winner about 90% of the time. I’d also prefer a five round shootout to the one employed now. thanks for reading, truly appreciated.

  3. “We recently polled 26 contributors at the Hockey Writers …The majority (9 votes) opted for a ten minute OT period of 4 v 4…”

    You must be using a definition of the word “majority” with which I am unfamiliar.

    • majority… as in more people voted for this option; the remaining 17 voters all opted for different choices, none of which had as many as nine votes.

        • That is a selective spoiler alert. Funny how you forgot to include this one:

          “the group or party that is the greater part of a large group”.

          So it’s hardly a misuse of the word.

        • Is this hockey or college English class? Majority, as in more voted for this plan than for any other plan. Save it for the Mensa meeting.

  4. I’ve given up on hockey since the rules changes coming out of the first lockout. I stumbled onto this story while doing some research for something else and was intrigued. But basically, hockey was in my bone marrow for 30 years and now I never watch it.

    Why? The game’s all about marketing, really complicated rules and standings, ridiculous goalie pads and little strategy except making sure your ankle-bending unit isn’t on the ice against a group that skate.

    Try explaining any of this to your kid who’s trying to become a fan of the game. The new icing rule is enough to make your head spin and I OFFICIATED for 10 years!


    Get rid of OT the shootout ALL of it.

    Increase the points between winning and tying and see what happens. 3 points for a W vs. 1 for a T might do it. If that’s not enough…make it FOUR pts for a W and 1 for a T and see if teams really want to end up in a knot after 60 mins. Come Feb. and March, trust me, teams are gonna go all out for the full 3 or 4 pts. with playoff slots in the balance.


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