What The Puck are shootouts? And the debate around them, explained.


(mark6mauno / flickr / creative commons)

The shootout in hockey has been a long-standing point of debate.

Introduced in the NHL’s 2005-06 season, the shootout is used as a tiebreaker when 60 minutes, followed by a five minute overtime period, is not enough to decide a winner.

In a one-on-one duel, players take turns attempting to score against the opposing goalie. While this tests an individual player’s skill and has resulted in exciting showcases of talent, it has been argued that the shootout does not accurately determine the correct winner of a hockey game.

Recently, the gold medal game of the World Junior Championships, a 30 year-old hockey tradition, was decided in a shoot out.

According to New Jersey Devils’ forward Taylor Hall, the World Juniors is “The 10 Best Days in Hockey.

It’s a big event, as Hall writes, “…a group of teenagers from all across the country get a chance to carry a nation.”

This past finals was as classic match up— Team Canada vs Team USA. In a nail-biting game, Team USA climbed back from a two goal deficit twice to tie the game. It went to a shootout. In the only successful attempt, Troy Terry’s goal brought the gold medal to the United States in a 6-5 win.

In a game where everything is on the line, going to a shootout is easily the worst, most anti-climatic way to decide the outcome,” wrote Marcy Di Michele of The Hockey Writers, referring to how the shootout converts a fast-paced, five-on-five game to a test of individual skill.

While changes to the tie-breaking scenarios in the World Juniors are in the works, the answer may already exist.

In the past, the NHL used a four-on-four overtime period to decide tied games, followed by a shootout for regular season games. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, games are decided by extra periods; five-on-five for 20 minutes until a team scores.

These overtime periods can continue to ridiculously long games, such as in 1936 when a game was decided in the sixth overtime period, nearly triple the normal playing time.

Without shootouts in the regular season, hockey games can extend far beyond the realm of what’s healthy for athletes and result in greater late-season fatigue,” wrote Emilie Medland-Marchen of The Gauntlet.

Although the shootout serves as an easy, quick way to determine a winning a team, the NHL has attempted to lessen the amount of games that require a shootout. Most notably, since the 2015-16 season the overtime format was switched to three-on-three.

Less skaters on each team means more open ice, and a more fast-paced, hectic game. This change also lead to more scoring in overtime, which lessened the need for a shootout in its debut season. Three-on-three play reduced the amount of overtime games decided by a shootout by almost 20 percent, according to Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy.

For some, this is not enough.

At the end of the day, games can still be finalized as a result of a glorified skill contest,” wrote The Rebel’s Mike Gwilliam.

However, it can be argued that shootouts provide a unique opportunity for players to showcase their talents.

“While giving players a chance to deke out a goalie with elaborate moves, the shootout is also a significant test for players learning how to perform in high-pressure environments,” wrote Medland-Marchen.

The shootout will continue to be a debated topic, but for now we can enjoy the creativity inspired by these one-on-one duels.


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