Want to know how valuable shootouts can be in the NHL? Just ask the Florida Panthers. Last season, the Panthers finished with a 3-8 record in the shootout, missing out on eight valuable points in the standings ... points the New York Rangers seized in 10 of their 16 shootouts. The end result? The Rangers advanced to the playoffs, while the Panthers fell short.
Shut Out By Shootouts
Had every team performed evenly in shootouts (a .500 record), the Rangers and Panthers would have swapped places in last season's final standings. (* Assumes .500 record in 2008-09 shootouts)
Eastern Conference Team Points Seed Shootout Record Points* Seed*
Carolina Hurricanes 97 6th 3-5 98 6th
New York Rangers 95 7th 10-6 93 --
Montreal Canadiens 93 8th 7-7 93 8th
Florida Panthers 93 -- 3-8 95.5 7th
When you reduce each team's shootout winning percentage to .500, you can see the full impact the shootout has on the playoff picture. Bringing the Broadway Blues down to an 8-8 shootout record would have cost them two of their final 95 points in the standings. If Florida had managed a .500 shootout record as well, it would have passed both New York and Montreal for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Don't think that last season was not an isolated phenomenon. An average of one playoff team per season would have changed if all teams had performed at a .500 level. In particular, the Toronto Maple Leafs succumbed twice to this Achilles' heel, to the delight of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who punched two postseason tickets (2005-06, 2006-07) thanks to shootout prowess.
In 2008-09, the Rangers were tied for the fifth-best winning percentage (.625), behind Atlanta (.875), New Jersey (.750), Anaheim (.700) and Colorado (.692). Rangers goaltenders posted the fourth-best save percentage (.750), while New York shooters converted a slightly above average 35.2 percent of their shots (14th in NHL). Going forward, GM Glen Sather did well to bring in shootout specialist Ales Kotalik (52.6 percent in his career) and Vaclav Prospal (35.7 percent) via free agency to bolster Chris Drury (21.4 percent) after the departures of three of their top shooters, Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev and Fredrik Sjostrom.
In contrast, Florida had the second-worst winning percentage (.273) behind only Tampa Bay (.231), the result of a poor .567 save percentage (25th in NHL) and an NHL-worst 18.8 percent shooting percentage. VUKOTA may love elite goaltender Tomas Vokoun (plus-16.0 GVT), but his shootout performance is only slightly above average (.684), while the Panthers' dreadful conversion rate is due to a lineup with only one 30 percent-plus shooter, Steven Reinprecht.
Yet the good news for the Panthers going forward is a case of addition by subtraction: The Avalanche signed Florida's former backup netminder Craig Anderson. Unfortunately for Colorado, Andersen's mind-bogglingly poor shootout save percentage (.364) will make incumbent Peter Budaj appear semiproficient. The double whammy for the Avs is that their abysmal goaltending offsets their secret weapon, Wojtek Wolski, undeniably the best shooter in the NHL. The 21st overall pick in the 2004 draft converted on a ridiculous 10 of 12 shootout attempts last season (83.3 percent). The 23-year-old Pole will be a restricted free agent after this season and clearly would be a great addition to any team on the playoff bubble looking to pick up crucial shootout wins.
Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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