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One of the more visible changes to come out of the lockout was the institution of the shootout to decide the winner of games which remained undecided after a 4-on-4 overtime. This resulted in quite a lot of excitement for fans to be sure, but also let a few rounds of a skills competition play a large part in determining standings points for a team.

The original move to awarding a point for an overtime loss for the 2000-2001 season was not without controversy of its own, nor the move to 4-on-4 hockey for the overtime period. Hockey fans barely had time to digest the move from 2-point game to 2-or-3-point games before the shootout added another wrinkle into what I would call "standings points inflation".

Now, disregarding whether the original change to awarding a point for an overtime loss was a good idea or not (which did not have enough time to stand on its own, unlike the nearly 25-year-old addition of the 5-minute regular season sudden death overtime period itself) I believe the shootout winner being awarded a full point is a particularly egregious example of "standings points inflation" that has a simple solution rather than drastic.

The drastic solution that I have been hearing is to move to 3-point games: 3 points for a regulation win, 0 points for a regulation loss, 1 point for an overtime or shootout loss, and 2 points for an overtime or shootout win. Talk about inflation! There is certainly a bit of symmetric appeal in this solution, but I think it suffers from two major flaws. First, that a team is still awarded a full standings point for a skills competition instead of a team hockey play, and second, that it is a fairly severe change that reeks of marketing-speak, panic, and random fiddling instead of thoughtful action.

The simple solution that I would propose is to return the standings points to pre-lockout conditions (2 points for a regulation or overtime win, 0 points for a regulation loss, 1 point for an overtime loss) and use the shootout record as a tiebreaker instead of as a primary input into a team's standings points. This keeps the shootout and its interest as more than a simple meaningless gimmick but prevents the current situation where every game that ends regulation in a tie will eventually award 3 standings points among the two teams, even if neither of the two teams has been able to put forth a team hockey effort whatsoever in the previous 65 minutes of play. A game that ends overtime still tied would see each team awarded 1 standings point, and the resulting shootout would not result in a standings win but instead be used to resolve ties in standings points.

Currently, if at the end of the regular season two teams are tied in standings points, the first tiebreaker is games won. Currently this counts regulation wins, overtime wins, and shootout wins equally. I think that this is fine when used in a tiebreak situation, so the first tiebreaker would remain games won -- including shootout wins. The second tiebreaker would remain head-to-head records -- including shootouts. This would keep shootouts as an important part of the game and incent teams to make a genuine effort, but not overly important given their nature as a relative gimmick in the context of a team sport.

The principle problem here is unfortunately one of bookkeeping. Currently we have 3 primary columns for standings: wins, losses, and overtime losses (which include shootout losses). This change would require (internal) bookkeeping of wins, losses, ties, overtime losses, shootout wins, and shootout losses. But recall that simple presentations of the standings would not require shootout wins or losses (much as current simple standings presentations do not require goals for and against despite this being the tertiary tiebreaker, and simple standings do not attempt to portray head-to-head records which is the secondary tiebreaker) and so this data could (and perhaps should) be simply presented as wins, losses, ties, and overtime losses -- 4 columns of data, much like the standings presentations from prior to the shootout.

The shootout has been an unmitigated success, I think, in drawing fan interest, and is great fodder for the highlight reels to be sure. But I think that discussion should be heard on the effect upon the greatest team sport in existence of awarding a full standings point based on the outcome of a 3-man skills competition. Without getting rid of the shootout altogether, or reducing it to a mere gimmick without meaning, this proposal offers one view in reigning in the win and standings point "inflation" which has already resulted in the appearance of asterisks in the hallowed record books of the NHL.

Now, the trapezoid... don't get me started...
Filed Under:   shootouts   overtime   standings   tiebreakers   rules  
April 18, 2007 4:22 PM ET | Delete
How about this: 2 points for a win, 0 points for anything else. Why screw around and reward mediocrity by giving teams points for failing to win? It is ludicrous.
April 18, 2007 4:33 PM ET | Delete
I dislike the idea of giving a team 0 points for playing even team hockey with a team for 65 minutes only to lose in a skills competition on battered ice. If you want my analysis for rewarding a team with a point for an overtime loss, here it is: I agree with you, it sucks. I think all games should be 2 point games: 2 points for a regulation or overtime win, 0 points for a regulation or overtime loss, 1 point to each team for a tie. The shootout would still be there at the end and be used for tiebreaker purposes in the standings. The reason this was not my initial proposal is that one change at a time is by itself probably too much considering the frequency of NHL rules changes of late -- it's an almost comic parade of tinkering, even though they got a few things right (tag offsides, no two-line pass).
April 18, 2007 5:18 PM ET | Delete
The shootout should be eliminated. Keep the overtime the same as the playoffs except that it is 4 on 4, which should lead to quicker scoring. 2 points win and 0 with a loss. The current system is confusing to people who do not follow hockey. For example, the Islanders are in reality an under .500 team, if you look at their 12 overtime losses. Using some bizarre hypocrisy overtime wins count towards your winning percentage but not overtime losses. Shootouts belong in the minor leagues just like stadium gimmicks in baseball (I am looking you way Houston Astros).
April 19, 2007 2:18 AM ET | Delete
April 19, 2007 2:22 AM ET | Delete
The problem with eliminating the shootout is that it was instituted to bring people on the fringes of hockey into the fold. Taking it away two years later after a team has made the playoffs because of a shootout (Isles) is too much of a kneejerk reaction. I personally think it's a sham, but I also feel the same way about 4v4 OT periods. It seems to me that if you are going to decide a game one way in the regular season it should also be done the same way in the playoffs. That isn't to say that I want shootouts in playoff games, but I do think standards meant to standardize hockey games from season to postseason would be nice. My proposal would be to go with what you're saying about the shootouts, but to also do away with 4 on 4 play in OT. The shootout then has a legit purpose as a tie breaker, and not as a way to decide games.
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