A letter to the NHL: do away with the shootout

After the 2005-2006 NHL season, which was cancelled due to a labor dispute between the Players Association and the NHL, the NHL adopted the shootout. On July 22nd, 2005 in New York, as part of the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the League instituted the shootout. Based on the rulebook, the shootout is to begin if two teams are tied after regulation and the five minute overtime period.

Regardless of a shootout loss, the losing shootout team still earns one point, affecting their points within the conference standings. The rule hasn’t changed since then.

In the 11 and a half years since then, the shootout still exists, a strange way to end a hockey game. It’s almost as bad as former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig making the MLB All-Star Game determining home-field advantage in the World Series (which has since been abolished.” A lot of people may be opposed to the NHL ending a game in a tie, but can it be much worse, or equal, to a shootout ending a game?

If 100 random die-hard hockey fans were polled on their opinion of the shootout, perhaps more than half would be against it.

According to current commissioner Gary Bettman, hockey fans “love the shootout.” Is his claim pure fiction, based on a small sample size, or possibly truthful? Bettman’s been the NHL commissioner since 1993, and has taken some hits from fans, for all the lockouts that cancelled games, as well as for his different approach for the game.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Tuukka Rask
Flyers’ defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere beating Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask in a shootout win on November 29th vs. Boston. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

It’s worth to note, more recently the NHL has created a category in each Conference’s standings (East and West), called ROW, which is a combination of the amount of regulation plus overtime wins a team has. Thus, the stat eliminates any shootout win a team may have. It basically serves as an incentive for teams to win the game as fast as possible.

So far this year, through 75 games, Washington leads the NHL in that category, with a ROW mark of 48, slightly above second-place Columbus (47). In addition to that, perhaps the stat is an indication of how fast some teams are- i.e. slower teams may have fewer ROW wins, due to a slower lineup, who’s aiming to get at least one point from each game.

Is the NHL shootout rule the equivalent, or worse than, to the NFL postseason rule that says teams can win any playoff game, including the Super Bowl (which occurred this past season), on a touchdown, without the opponent having the ball? It brings up a strong debate about odd rules in each sport, and how fair or unfair they are.

Every off-season NHL players are working hard, improving their strength and conditioning, aiming to be a better player, to contribute to their team’s success. Hockey, like any other pro sport, is a team sport above all else. So if I were a hockey player, GM or head coach, I would be furious at the idea that after 65 minutes my players weren’t playing 5×5, but rather leaving a goalie vulnerable. Defenseless is the best way to put it.

For debate’s sake, let’s say Hall of Fame goalie, and perhaps the greatest one in NHL history, Dominik Hasek played this season. Back when he was between the pipes (1990-2008), the game was different, more physical, and fun to watch, because it was less controlled by referees and not written as a possible shootout game. While he did play briefly during the shootout era (2005-2008), if he were unsuccessful during 1×1, it would perhaps prove even more so that the shootout was extremely flawed.

While we all love playing one on one in a practice rink or growing up in a school hockey league, it’s different when it’s at the pro level; in other words, when meaningful games are at stake.

As for the Flyers, through midway October of 2014, they were statistically the worst team ever in the history of the shootout era. Also within that timespan, out of 260 opponent shootout attempts, Flyers’ goalies only had a 57.3 save percentage. Despite that, out of those nine seasons (from the start of the shootout era till after the 2014 season), they made the playoffs on seven occasions.

They had the talent on paper to have success within the shootout, but for whatever reason they didn’t.

During the shootout, a goalie is the most vulnerable and, if I had to guess, I’m sure at least a fair amount would be opposed to it. Perhaps the shootout will occur less and less now that, thankfully, the NHL board of governors approved a rule for the overtime period to be 3 on 3, opening up the overtime more and creating odd-man rushes. This rule was signed almost two years ago, on June 24th of 2015.

Above all else, the shootout is more of a skills competition than a team sport, with one offensive player versus the net-minder, and nothing more. It’s reminiscent of past NHL All-Star Games. Midway through this season the NHL announced that from now on, the All-Star Game skills competition will no longer include the Breakaway Challenge- which was essentially the same concept as shootouts.

For the NHL, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of the All-Star Game breakaway scenario, yet keep shootouts in each game. All-Star Games are no bearing within the standings, unlike games that end in a shootout. Thus, it’s time to abolish it and stick to the 3 on 3, five minute, overtime period.