Before the 2004-5 season was cancelled due to a lockout, the standings system was a little different then what we have today. If a game reached the end of overtime without a goal being scored, the game ended in a tie. The NHL decided during that lockout, that all games should have a winning side and losing side, and thus the penalty shot shootout was born.
October 5th, 2005, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs played to what would have been a tie before the lockout, setting the stage for the first ever penalty shot shootout in NHL history. The Senators won 2-0. The rest is history.
The way that it works in the standings, is that the winning team gets 2 points, and the losing team gets 1, as if the game had ended by an overtime goal. It differs, however, in terms of tie-breakers in the standings, where the team with more non-shootout victories gets precedence.
This may seem to skew standings a little bit toward those teams good at the shootout, right?
Take this example: This year’s Washington Capitals are in second place currently in the Metropolitan, with a record of 14-12-2, adding up to 30 points in the standings. Their shootout record is 6-2, and adding that into their standings as if games ended in overtime at a draw instead of a decisive shootout, their record would be 8-12-8-0 (wins-losses-ties-OT losses), adding up to just 24 points, which would put them in second…to last in the division.
Yes, it does inflate teams records, but let’s be real here, the Sabres (6-20-2, 3-0 in SO) would like it better if their record didn’t look like 3-20-3-2, because it seems to take goals that nearly defy logic for them to win games in regulation or overtime.
So it seems to pay to have guys on your team who are good at shootouts, right?
The all-time shootout records show that it really doesn’t make a difference. Take a look for yourself. In the top 5, you can make the case for 3 of those 5 teams to have a decent level of success since the shootout’s inception, those being the Penguins, Devils, and Kings (who weren’t always that great in the post-lockout era). In the bottom 5, you have 3 Stanley Cup appearances, with the Flyers, Hurricanes, and Senators. Heck, the Detroit Red Wings (who have an absolute wizard of the shootout in the NHL in Pavel Datsyuk) are in 24th on this list, and they have 2 consecutive Cup Finals appearances (2007-8, winning in 07), along with a million straight playoff appearances (last miss was the 1989-90 season).
It has become an event for the fans, however. I know personal anecdote isn’t fuel for a fire when backing up a statement, but I’ve been to many shootouts in my day, and the fans all stand up and cheer on their teams during the shootout, more intense than during the game itself. No one likes the inconclusive feeling they get, leaving the arena after the game ends in a stalemate. Fans want to see some fun, some craziness, things that would never be tried during a game. The prime example for this would be the last shooter from the longest shootout in NHL history. Marek Malik, a defenseman for the Rangers at the time, who maxed out at 23 points in a season, pulled off one of the best moves in the history of the shootout. If you Google his name, the first hit is his page on Wikipedia, and the second is that goal. The fans loved it.
It goes on and on and on. The players have lots of fun with it, and the fans love it. Sure, it messes with the standings a bit, making teams look better than they are (we’re on to you Buffalo!). But in the end, hockey is in the business of getting fans to the games, and watching a shootout is one of the more exciting events in regular season hockey. It was a great move by the NHL to institute it, and they should keep it, despite the talk to remove it. If the fans love it, there is no reason to fix what isn’t broken.