The shootout: worth the publicity?

My beer brewing partner and long-time rugby teammate Luke sent me a New York Times article about shootouts in the NHL (he’s also a former hockey player). I’ve been playing ice hockey consistently for the first time this fall/winter and following the Red Wings a bit more. Even at my crappy level, the speed of the game is intoxicating. The old argument is that it’s a bad TV sport, though, because of blind spots against the boards and difficulty finding the tiny puck (with bigger TVs and HD, this is changing).

The NHL instituted shootouts to get people watching hockey again following the 2004-2005 lockout (along with smaller goalie pads and less restrictive passing rules). Lots of NHL games used to finish in unsatisfying ties, even with overtime. Shootouts resolve things quickly without dragging players through endless OT periods.

However, shootouts reward individual skill in a fundamentally team-oriented game. The article above explains how the Rangers have started dressing “shootout specialist” Erik Christensen — a player with a great shootout percentage (52.2%) but not much skill in open play. Goalies matter enormously too (there’s a lot of variation in shootout save percentage). I gave an anecdote yesterday about how hockey games depend heavily on lucky bounces. Shootouts seem to tie skill more directly to the outcome of the game, but what kind of skill are they rewarding?

Teams have complained that shootouts are unfair since their inception. Now they are reacting the rational way by adjusting rosters. This probably isn’t a big deal, but with the NBA temporarily in shambles (more on this later) and TV size following Moore’s Law, maybe it’s time to reconsider shootouts. Ties are character-building, after all. In life, sometimes no one wins.

Quick edit: My buddy Dan linked a good Simmons podcast on this issue in the comments. Their best suggestion is going to 3 on 3 hockey after the first OT. My buddy Tony pushed this idea farther awhile ago — 4 on 4, then 3 on 3, then 2 on 2, then 1 on 1, then maybe a shootout. I think 1 on 1 would be really exciting, even if it shares many of the downsides of shootouts.

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6 responses to “The shootout: worth the publicity?

  1. A good BS Report discussion about them (and some alternatives– let players shoot multiple times or 4v4 and then 3v3 overtime): http://espn.go.com/espnradio/grantland/player?id=7295274

  2. I always liked the idea of the declining player overtime. One-on-one may be too limiting, however. It’s telling that the NHL doesn’t use overtime in the playoffs. Ultimately I think it’s fine for the regular season as I don’t think it’s too distortionary in the regular season (interesting question: do teams that are bad at shootouts change their play more aggressively in overtime?).

    Oh, and it’s not that hard to follow the puck in the NHL on tv. Americans….

    • 1 on 1 would just end up in breakaways I imagine, and the defender would probably try to commit a penalty, which would result in a penalty shot anyway. I doubt you could get through 4 or 5 minutes of 2 on 2 hockey without a goal, though. The NHL actually tried 3 on 3 with some developmental players this summer. I guess it was sloppy, but the guys were at the end of a long day. Agreed – it would be easy to look at SO win % over the first half of the year and see if those teams tended to play fewer OT and SO games in the second half (due to more aggressive/risky strategies). I’l try to work on that.

  3. Pingback: Hockey Night in America! Part 1: NHL shootouts and playoffs | Causal Sports Fan

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