Evaluating Overtime Part Two: The Shootout

Part one of the evaluation explored the idea of no longer giving a team points just for getting to overtime and emphasized the concept of a higher reward for teams that win games. Part two will build upon that concept and question the role of the shootout as well as make an argument for a change in the entire points system.

                             

 

The shootout was implemented as a way to eliminate the sour taste left by ties, as well as to make sure that every game ended with a definitive winner. Some view it as an exciting conclusion, while others see it as nothing more than a glorified skills competition. Even the league itself is still unclear as to whether or not the shootout is considered a legitimate way to decide a game.

Last year, the NHL Board of Governors decided to change league rules to ensure that shootout wins were no longer included in end of season tiebreakers. The rule change was done in an attempt to limit shootouts as well as give the advantage to teams who win more games without the aid of the shootout. At the heart of it, the rule was meant more to help than hurt, but there are still multiple scenarios where a team’s final standing could be decided because of another team’s shootout win.  In the event that they aren’t tied, the shootout acts as another win, but if they are tied the shootout victories are negated.

If the league is willing to include the shootout in competition then it should be weighed accordingly. The shootout can still be included as a last-ditch effort to conclude a game, but if it isn’t considered valuable enough to be included in a tiebreaker total than it shouldn’t be valuable enough to equal a regulation or overtime victory. The most logical way to end the shootout debate is to implement a sliding point scale so that every game has a winner and loser and teams that win games outright receive more benefits than teams that don’t.

As an example, let’s analyze last season’s Eastern Conference standings:

 

 

WINS

SOW

OTL

SOL

POINTS

1.)

WASHINGTON

43

5

5

6

107

2.)

PHILADELPHIA

44

3

5

7

106

3.)

BOSTON

44

2

5

6

103

4.)

PITTSBURGH

39

10

5

3

106

5.)

TAMPA BAY

40

6

5

6

103

 

When analyzing the relationship between the top five teams, one will notice that Pittsburgh largely stayed among the top teams by the aid of shootout wins. The Pittsburgh/Philadelphia scenario is a perfect example of how the new rule change works. Both teams have the same point totals, but Philadelphia ends up being seeded higher because they have more non-shootout wins. But is it fair to Pittsburgh that those shootout wins are deemed less valuable? They clearly performed better than Philadelphia in shootouts, a component to the game that to this point is worth just as much as a win.  The shootout needs to have some kind of set value that doesn’t vary based upon scenario.

                           

The most logical alteration to the current structure would be to adopt a three point system, similar to the one used in the Olympics. In such a structure, a regulation or overtime win is worth three points, a shootout win is worth two points and a shootout loss merits one point. No points are awarded for a loss in the five-minute overtime period. Here is a model of how the Eastern Conference standings would have looked like had they adopted this system last season:

 

 

 

WINS

LOSSES

SOW

SOL

POINTS

1.)

PHILADELPHIA

44

28

3

7

145

2.)

WASHINGTON

43

28

5

6

145

3.)

BOSTON

44

30

2

6

142

4.)

PITTSBURGH

39

30

10

3

140

5.)

TAMPA BAY

40

30

6

6

138

6.)

MONTREAL

41

35

3

3

132

7.)

NYR

35

35

9

3

126

8.)

BUFFALO

38

38

5

1

125

 

The concept of this point structure is to give more reward to teams who win games in regulation or overtime. Teams like Philadelphia and Boston would benefit from the fact that they had higher win totals. Philadelphia would have won the Eastern Conference and Boston would have been only a single win out of first place. Let’s compare the above chart with the actual point totals from last season:

 

 

 

POINTS

1.)

WASHINGTON

107

2.)

PHILADELPHIA

106

3.)

BOSTON

103

4.)

PITTSBURGH

106

5.)

TAMPA BAY

103

6.)

MONTREAL

96

7.)

BUFFALO

96

8.)

NYR

93

 

The three-point system would have created more drama in the race for first in the East. In the two-point system, Boston went into the season’s final game three points out of second place, but seven points up in the division. No matter the result, they would finish third. Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara didn’t play in the game and Boston ended up losing 3-2 against New Jersey. Had this been the three-point system, Boston would have had the opportunity to clinch the first seed with a win no matter what Philadelphia or Washington did in their respective 82nd games.

Looking further down to the relationship between Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Montreal, one will notice that these race are much closer as well. Instead of ending the season two wins back of Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay would have been within a single victory of earning home ice adavantage. Montreal finished four wins out of fifth place, but in the three-point system they would have finished only two wins back. Imagine how much differently these teams may have approached their final games of the season had the race been this tight.

The three-point system offers a more specific way to evaluate how successful a team is throughout the season.  The system eliminates the debate over the shootout by giving teams who win without the shootout more benefits than those who do not. It puts more emphasis on winning games, a dynamic that has proven to motivate players in the past.

By eliminating shootout wins from tiebreaker situations, the NHL made an attempt to limit the amount of shootout occurrences. Based on the numbers, one would have to assume that they succeeded. Last year, 49.9% of games that went to overtime went to a shootout compared to the 61.1% the year before. That 49.9% is the lowest total in the six-year history of the shootout. This allows one to speculate that teams were more motivated to win prior to the shootout so that they had more of an advantage at the end of the season. It’s not difficult to imagine the incentive that would be in place for two teams in a playoff race who are tied with two minutes left in the third period. It’s doubtful that one would see teams playing it safe by killing the clock, a practice that is commonplace in the current system.

While a three-point system would absolutely balloon end of season point totals, it would also create a balanced distribution of points as well as reward teams who win games. That’s why the league must reevaluate the shootout. If it isn’t considered legitimate enough to determine an out-right winner, then the league needs to consider removing it or needs to find some way to value it more accurately. 

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Comments

Adam Pardes's picture

I'm a fan of the three-point system. My only concern is whether teams would back off late in regulation or overtime to try to salvage points the way they do now. Obviously that strategy is more important with the current system (both teams getting a point for making it to overtime, then it's up for grabs), but that's what I'd really like to see the NHL fix.