Next Level: Random mess 

December, 17, 2010

CRITICS OF THE NHL SHOOTOUT say it lets a narrow set of skills decide hockey games. It's as if the NBA used a free throw competition to choose winners. But that view is wrong. Skill, in fact, has nothing to do with the NHL's system of breaking overtime ties, according to a new study. That means shootout critics are even more right than they realize. Allow me to explain.

Statistician Michael Schuckers analyzed all 5,711 NHL shootout shots from the tiebreaker's debut in 2005-06 through last season. Of 571 different shooters, not one converted at a significantly higher rate than the NHL average. Meanwhile, only one of 112 goalies outperformed the league save average: the not-exactly-immortal Marc Denis, who is now retired. Just 10 shooters were significantly worse than average, roughly what you'd expect if the results of shootouts were driven purely by chance. "Based on this analysis," Schuckers told me, "I conclude that the NHL shootout is a crapshoot."

Peter Keating

ESPN Senior Writer
Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. His column, The Numbers, appears in every issue.