The ice is cleared of all but two players. As fans rise to their feet and teammates nervously look on, the skater gathers the puck and charges in for a free breakaway, a one-on-one showdown with the goalie. It’s a penalty shot, and for many fans it’s the most exciting moment in hockey.
In the NHL penalty shots are rare, usually awarded when a player is pulled down on a breakaway. The penalty shot also appears at the end of many games. The shootout, a series of penalty shots by each team, is used as a tiebreaker.
Should the shootout be part of the game? I think not, as it gives the skater way too much of an advantage. Do you think the shootout should be kept by the NHL? Let’s take a look at how it works, the case for the shootout and the case against the shootout.
How Does it Work?
The accepted format for the penalty shootout is the one used in international hockey and NCAA. A game tied after 60 minutes is followed by an overtime period. If there is still no winner, the game is decided by a shootout.
Each team selects five players. In turn, each player begins at center ice, skating in for one shot on goal. The team scoring the most goals in five attempts is the winner.
If the shootout is tied after all ten players have made their attempts, the competition continues in “sudden-death” mode: The teams trade shots until there is a winner.
The Case For the Shootout:
- Nothing matches the tension, anticipation and thrill of a shootout. Considering the price of an NHL ticket these days, fans deserve great entertainment, and the shootout is a heck of a great show.
- Does the NHL want more people in the seats and more fans watching at home? The shootout is fast, exciting, delivers immediate results and is easy for casual fans to follow.
- The NHL needs goals. Scoring has declined since the 1980s and most teams play a defense-first style. Hockey is supposed to be fast-paced. The shootout returns goal-scoring to its rightful place at the center of the game.
- Hockey is an evolving game. The forward pass was illegal until 1911. Regular season overtime began in 1983. It makes the spectators happy.
The Case Against the Shootout:
- The shootout may be fun, but it isn’t hockey. Hockey is a team game, not a series of breakaways. Players have to earn scoring chances by outworking and out-skating opponents.
- The shootout is a gimmick, the equivalent of deciding a baseball game with a home run contest or breaking a football tie by having quarterbacks throw the ball through a tire.
- Martin Brodeur works his butt off all night, stops 40 shots and salvages a 1-1 tie for his team. Two minutes later he’s a loser because he couldn’t stop a couple of guys on free breakaways. How fair is that?
- What’s wrong with a tie? If teams can’t decide a winner after 65 minutes of hockey, a tie is a just result.
- The shootout is a great novelty, nothing more. That novelty would soon wear thin and players and fans on the losing end of shootouts would feel cheated.
- More complications in the NHL standings. More points would be handed out, making historical comparisons between teams even more difficult.