Finally, fewer shootouts.

As part of an effort to limit the number of games decided by a shootout, the NHL changed from a 4 v 4 overtime session to a 3 v 3. This update came after a (mostly) failed change before the prior season, in which the league instituted longer line changes in overtime in the hope of sparking more overtime goals.

Said commissioner Gary Bettman to the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin this past July, “I think to the extent some people wanted to see fewer shootouts, this will get us there, and that’s fine.”

But while the 2015 change seemed promising, 3 v 3 play is relatively rare, and so most work into projecting the fraction of games going to a shootout required some extrapolation.

In any case, about a quarter of the way through the 2015-16 season, the league has seen some promising results. Shootouts are down, and significantly so.

Here’s a chart showing the fraction of overtime games decided by a shootout, by season, along with 95% confidence intervals. While nearly every season since the shootout’s implementation boasted rates around 60%, nearly half that many of this year’s OT games (33%) have reached the skills contest.


If the current numbers hold, it would mean that instead of roughly 12 shootouts a year, each team will play closer to 7 or 8. This seems like a good thing, as it means a lesser chance that a team’s playoff seed comes down to performance in the shootout.

Relatedly, there’s also a potential that the rule change will hurt a few specific teams while helping others. In my talk at NESSIS in September, I discussed why Pittsburgh, Chicago, and both of the New York teams ranked as the league’s best at shootouts over the past decade. But if those teams aren’t reaching the shootout – and this year, for example, Chicago hasn’t played in one yet – perhaps it’ll cost them a point or two in the standings over what they would’ve earned in the past. Along those lines, there are six teams that are yet to play in a single shootout thus far in 2015-16.

Final thought – we know shootouts are (mostly) a coin flip. But how often do better teams win in a sudden-death overtime? Is scoring during 4 v 4 or 3 v 3 compare also a coin flip?  Or is there a true, measurable, and repeatable talent?  Something to think about, which we should have more time to do without as many shootouts.


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