Ilya Kovalchuk currently leads the NHL with nine shootout goals. Should a shootout win be valued as much as a regulation win?
Ever since the NHL introduced the shootout following the 2004-05 lockout, the points system has been hotly debated.
Currently, every game results in a winner who receives two points no matter if the victory came in regulation, overtime, or the shootout.
The losing team, on the other hand, receives zero points for a regulation loss, one point for an overtime loss, and one point for a shootout loss.
This means that up to three points can be awarded each game, and it has become increasing difficult for teams to pull ahead of the pack.
There are pros and cons to the parity that exists in today's NHL. The good is that, with 16 teams making the playoffs each season and so many three-point games, there are more clubs with playoff aspirations down the stretch, leading to some pretty exciting hockey.
However, the cost is that with so many points being awarded in what amounts to a skills competition, fringe playoff spots risk being decided in the shootout.
Perhaps the best example of this fact to date occurred in 2010, when one of the final Eastern Conference spots was awarded to the Philadelphia Flyers after they beat the New York Rangers in a winner-takes-all shootout in the last game of the season.
As it turned out, the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, a position they wouldn't have been in if they had lost the shootout in game 82.
Despite the criticisms, there is little doubt the shootout is here to stay. Fans largely enjoy it, and it adds excitement to what otherwise would be a dull tie.
It has also provided a stage for plenty of exciting highlight-reel goals over the years, which further showcases the most-skilled hockey players in the world.
However, is there a way to keep the shootout, while also motivating teams to go for the win in overtime, rather than securing one point and taking their chances winning a second point with a few penalty shots?
Here is a proposal for an approach that basically reduces the shootout to a means of determining who "wins the tie." It goes as follows:
- The winner in regulation gets two points and the loser gets zero.
- The winner in overtime gets two points, the loser gets zero.
- The winner in the shootout gets one point, the loser gets zero
Basically a team never receives a point for losing—the way it should be—and the shootout's main purpose is to decide which team receives the single point for playing to a stalemate until the lottery of a shootout.
This system favors teams that regularly win in regulation and overtime, and hurts teams who regularly take games to the shootout since they can receive one point maximum in the tiebreaker.
What would the NHL landscape look like today if this system was implemented to award points? Clearly, this is a limited exercise since teams would have a different approach to overtime given a new system. However, here are the results.
|Team||Wins||SO Wins||Losses||Points (proposed)||Points (current)|
While, for the most part, the best teams stay on top and the worst teams stay on the bottom, the biggest change in the standings understandably concerns teams with a large number of shootout wins, shootout losses, and overtime losses.
The largest differentials between the current system and the proposed system belong to the Panthers, Kings, and Wild, who each drop 16 points between the two systems.
The Florida Panthers are currently in first place in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, but benefit from 12 overtime losses split between seven shootout defeats and five in overtime. When these are accounted for in the proposed system, the Panthers fall behind the Capitals, Jets and Lightning, and subsequently out of the current playoff picture.
One the other side of the spectrum, the Washington Capitals move into first place in the Southeast Division and are rewarded with a third-seed playoff birth for having the second most regulation and overtime wins in the Eastern Conference.
In any system, the best teams tend to rise to the top. Also, there is no shootout in the playoffs, therefore valuing wins earned during regulation and overtime over wins earned during the shootout helps to ensure the most competitive playoff-pool possible.
The teams most equipped to win outside the shootout are best equipped to win in the playoffs.
How would that infamous 2010 Rangers/Flyers battle have ended with the proposed system? The Flyers would have still finished above the Rangers thanks to an advantage in regulation and overtime wins, however it would not have hinged on the shootout.
And that is really the way it should be. Regulation and overtime wins should be valued over shootout wins, because that's what the playoffs are all about.