Should luck earn you a playoff spot?

I have heard and read several times the past few days about people thinking about what a joke it would be if the Canadiens and Leafs went to a shootout Saturday with the winner making the playoffs and the loser heading for the golf course. The underlying sentiment in this is that it just isn’t right that someones fate could be decided on the basis of a shootout. Now, because of last nights results the above Montreal-Toronto scenario won’t come to fruition, but a similar one could occur Sunday. There is a scenario where the Isles could need a win over NJ to make the playoffs. If that games goes to a shootout, if the Isles in the shootout they get the playoff spot, if they don’t, the Leafs would. Is that really any worse than the Montreal-Leafs scenario?

And what if the Leafs did beat Montreal in overtime on Saturday and the Islanders losing one of their two games resulting in the Leafs tying Montreal with 91 points and the Isles not being able to pass them. Montreal would then make the playoffs on the basis of the fact that they have 2 more wins than the Leafs. Coincidentally, Montreal has 6 shootout wins to the Leafs 4.

Also, Tampa has essentially made the playoffs because of the shootout and the extra points. They are 10-1 in the shootout. If they were 6-5 they would be out of the playoffs needing to win both their final 2 games and the Leafs beating Montreal to make the playoffs. If they were 5-6 they would be eliminated at this point.

But instead this team which is 29-32 in games that end in regulation have made the playoffs and are in contention for the division lead and the 3rd seed. Tampa would be the only team with a sub .500 regulation record to make the playoffs while Carolina is 34-33 in regulation heads for the golf course.

But what is crazy about all of this is that the Lightning are winning the shootouts because of their goaltending, not their big 3 forwards. Their goalies have a phenominal .936 save% in the shootout but a league worst .884 save % during the regular and OT play. Meanwhile Tampa has a 21st best 29.8% shooting percentage. If that doesn’t tell you how much ‘luck’ is involved in the shootout I don’t know what does. Boston is 9-4 in shootouts, Phoenix is 5-2 while Detroit is 2-8, Ottawa is 2-6 and Anaheim is 4-9. Clearly shootouts don’t have a lot to do with the skill and ability of the teams or players involved. Knowing this, does it really make sense to have over 13% of all NHL games, and as explained above, playoff positions decided by luck and not skills? I’ll let you decide.

Yes, I know people will argue that it is exciting and fans like it and hockey is really all about entertainment and if fans are entertained then it is good for the game. I simply cannot accept that argument. Yes, hockey is entertainment but it is first and foremost a professional competition and being a competition it is in my mind imperative to maintain the integrity of the competition itself. knowingly adding a significant amount of ‘luck’ under the banner of ‘entertainment’ into the equation only harms the game of hockey as a sport and a competition and thus, at least in small part, puts it on the same level as say, professional wrestling.

Posted in NHL

This article has 8 Comments

  1. the western conference race may as well come down to a shootout as well if the following scenario occurs.

    Calgary loses to Edmonton and COlorado beats Nashville…. then if the game between Colorado and Calgary went to a shootout on sunday, the winner would qualify for the playoffs. I agree that it seems ridiculous that an entire season may come down to one shootout!!!

  2. This is exactly why I hate the shootout. There is enough luck involved in the game–who is healthiest in the playoffs, which way the puck bounces, if it hits the post and goes either in or out–I don’t like the idea of deliberately making chance an even bigger part of the game. If you want to be fair, then make sure that skill has a tendency to prevail. This doesn’t necessarily occur in the gimmick at the end of the games. (Or failing that, at least make the teams have to go at least five shooters to maybe reward teams with more depth.)

    If you really want to motivate teams to go for a win, then give each team a point if the game is tied after 60 minutes, give a regulation loser 0 points, and give a regulation winner 3 points. If getting an extra bonus point out of thin air for winning in regulation doesn’t motivate a team to go for a win in the final minutes, then the situation is hopeless. Save overtime for the playoffs and toss the shootout entirely (except at the all-star game, I guess.)

  3. As much as I’d rather see more overtime, and I agree that this is a team game, I still feel the shootout is a specialized skill in and of itself. I also think they should go to 5 shooters initially instead of 3, as well as a 10 minute OT before resorting to a SO.

    But at least we still don’t have shootouts in the actual Playoffs! If you think winning the Stanley Cup in a SO is bad, how silly is it to watch something like the World Cup or Premiere League decided in penalty kicks? At least hockey goalies have a realistic chance of stopping the shot (compared to the HUGE net the non-padded goalkeepers have to guard in footy).

  4. Really, what would be wrong with going to a 10 minute 4 on 4 OT and accepting ties at the end of that? My guess is that you wouldn’t see many and it certainly wouldn’t take anymore time than the SO; what with having to scrape the ice and all that. Sadly, it’s not going to happen.

  5. I have never figured out what is wrong with ties anyway. Having ties in my opinion is far better than harming the integrity and fairness of the game.

  6. For the record, I don’t think calling the shootout, “luck”. It is certainly a different skill, but a skill none the less.

    Just out of curiosity, why did you only include road giveaways in that analysis?

  7. Certainly some of it is a different skill, but I do think some of it is luck too. I have a hard time believing that Tampa goalies are actually that good at stopping breakaways. Who knows, maybe they are, but maybe they have just been lucking in guessing what the shooter is going to do.

    I only looked at road giveaways because of the huge disparity that exists between how game monitors attribute giveaways to players. For example, the game monitor in one city might assign a giveaway to a player much more frequently than another city. If, for example, the game monitor in Ottawa was very generous in handing out giveaways (like they are in handing out hits) then I wouldn’t want to penalize Ottawa players because they play 41 games in front of a generous giveaway game monitor. So to eliminate a significant amount of that bias as I can I just looked at road giveaways.

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