Should the Canucks pull the goaltender in overtime? (No.)

The fact that the NHL doesn’t consider shootout wins when breaking ties in the standings is hilarious to me. 46 ties have been settled already this NHL season by way of the shootout, meaning 46 points in the standings have been awarded through it, but when it comes settling ties in the standings, it’s no good. If the NHL really wanted to be consistent, they’d settle ties in the standings with an emergency shootout. Or, if it’s too difficult to get the two gridlocked teams together, a coin toss.

Yes, the shootout is silly and random. As multiple people have pointed out, it’s a total crapshoot. But when the Canucks are bad at it, as they are so far this season, it invariably leads to all sorts of equally silly, random suggestions on how to improve their fortune. Try this guy. Try that guy. Go in fast. Go in slow. Deke. Shoot. Swap goalies.

Or, in my new favourite innovation, courtesy Jonathan McDonald of The Province, pull goalies. Not during the shotoout, of course. But in advance of it. Let’s all pause to examine this head-scratcher:

The Canucks are now 2-5 in the shootout this season with, at this pace, another five to six shootout losses coming in the next seven weeks. Incredibly, they were 8-7 in the shootout last season. But let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that they’re not particularly good at this part of the game. And let’s just say, anecdotally at least, that you give them better odds of winning the overtime. You know, the Sedins and all that. So wouldn’t you do anything to win the overtime? Let’s just throw it out there. Just as the Canucks once revolutionized the power play with that fabulous drop pass that no longer exists, they could revolutionize overtime. When Scott Gomez got that goalie-interference penalty in overtime, the Canucks spent two minutes playing 4-on-3. What if they’d pulled Schneider? What if they’d had the balls to take that risk? It is a risk, of course. Few people know that, according to NHL rule 84.2, you can pull your goalie for an extra attacker in overtime, but if the other team scores you forfeit the point you automatically get, just for getting to overtime. It might be ballsy, even foolish, but I’d applaud that move, even just one time. That power play was intense; imagine if they’d had another guy out there. Don’t laugh at the idea; it might just work.

Or… we could laugh at the idea. Sure, it could pay off, since sometimes really stupid gambles work out, such as betting on Katniss to win The Hunger Games. But why would anyone take this particular risk?

Just to review: since a shootout loss is all but a foregone conclusion, according to McDonald, the Canucks should show some balls and pull the goalie for the extra attacker if you happen to get a powerplay in overtime. Nevermind that you lose the charity point if the other team scores on you, which is now much, much easier to do, because you might score on them.

Here’s rule 84.2, which I’m guessing the NHL didn’t think would ever come into play, but wrote into the rulebook just in case:

84.2 Overtime – Regular-season – Extra Attacker  - A team shall be allowed to pull its goalkeeper in favor of an additional skater in the overtime period. However, should that team lose the game during the time in which the goalkeeper has been removed, it would forfeit the automatic point gained in the tie at the end of regulation play, except if the goalkeeper has been removed at the call of a delayed penalty against the other team.

In effect, rather than banking the point, a necessity, especially in the gridlocked Western Conference where only 4 points separate 3rd from 11th, then trying to win another point in what is essentially a 50/50 draw, give back the point you just won in the hopes that you double down.

Listen. The Canucks aren’t as bad in the shootout as we think. Yes, they’re an unfortunate 2-for-7 right now, their shooters are shooting 21.7 percent (or about 15% below the league average) and their goaltenders have a pretty crummy .565 save percentage (10% below league average). But, again, a great deal of the shootout is luck. Those are some bad luck stats.

But last season, the Canucks had good luck. They won 8 of 15 shootouts, making them one of the league’s top 10 teams in the skills competition. Only 7 teams had more wins, and they were one of only 11 teams with more wins than losses.

The year before featured just 10 teams with more wins than losses. This time, the Canucks were not one of them. In fact, only three teams have been above .500 in the shootout two years in a row: Pittsburgh, Colorado, and New Jersey. And before you think these teams are magical outliers, New Jersey is winless in three shootouts this year.

For the most part, the shootout is random. Some years you get good luck. Some years you don’t. It’s rare to get good luck two years in a row. The personnel on this team really hasn’t changed. The Canucks are no better or worse than they were at the shootout last season. They’re just not getting as fortunate.

And hell, even if they were as bad as some believe, pulling the goalie still wouldn’t be the sensible thing to do. One of my favourite lines from Cam Charron spells this out nicely: “Even if they’re a good offensive team, the weird thing about hockey is that in any given moment, with any given player on any given spot on the ice, there’s no spot where a player is expected to score more than 50% of the time.”

But if that’s a little too nebulous, consider that, over the last two years, in 27:07 of 5-on-3 time, the Canucks have scored 6 goals, or one every 4:31. In other words, in two or fewer minutes on a 5-on-3, their chances of scoring are below 50%. Plus the Vancouver net is empty, so there’s that to worry about.

In effect, rather than banking the first point and trying your luck with, say, a sub-50% shot at the second (because in this hypothetical, they’re worse than average, remember), pulling the goalie means your odds of getting the two points drop below 50% anyway, and your odds of getting no points skyrocket up from 0%.

Why would anyone ever do that?

Tags: , ,

17 comments

  1. BBoone
    March 7, 2013

    I do not understand AV’s reluctance to have the same shootout players. It is like a baseball manager
    determining his closer of the day by who looked good warming up pre game. Is he so concerned about the other team watching tape and scouting his shooters or is he just nonchalant about it all because he feels it is funadamentally random and not worth any effort. It seems to me that having half a dozen or so players that know they are shoot out players would encourage them to practice the skill set needed.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
    • Ray Levy
      March 7, 2013

      Absolutely, at the very least choose 3 players and have them regularly practising and analysing a potential shootout against an upcoming team that is likely to be a tie. I.e. Chicago, St. Louis.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
      • Amor de Cosmos
        March 7, 2013

        I agree there should be regular shoot-out practice, and at least two of the first three shooters should be regulars. The reasons for not doing that are bit like those given for why England’s soccer team doesn’t practice penalty kicks, ie: it’s mostly luck, and you can’t replicate a game situation in practice. Needless to say England lose most of their penalty shoot-outs.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        March 7, 2013

        All good points. This team’s chronic inability to score in the shootout speaks to AV’s contempt for it. I also hate it, but recognize that in the regular season, shootout success can make the difference between making or missing the playoffs. The fact that Canuck shooters are almost all dismal for their career in the shootouts seems to reflect that they don’t really practise or scout it. Indeed, the all-time NHL success percentage is about 33%, and only two Canucks with more than 3 career attempts are above that rate, Burrows (11/26 = 42%) and Lapierre (4/9 = 44%). I think Vigneault should just set aside those 2, plus perhaps 3 others like Kesler, Edler and Raymond or Higgins, and have them work a couple of hours on honing a few moves. Kesler used to be quite good, but I think he’s become far too predictable.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  2. Ray Levy
    March 7, 2013

    Sure, I understand your overall thesis about not pulling the keeper in overtime here, but what I don’t understand is attributing the shootout completely to luck. Sure, there is a bit of luck that occurs, but I don’t understand why more teams – especially in the West – don’t dedicate more time to practising skills or examining goalie tendencies during the shootout. This is regular practise at the highest level of Football where you have a penalty shootout – which is essentially a similar premise.

    I know Edmonton practise the shootout (probably not the best example), but if the Canucks gave a bit more time or had some players staying back after practise to try out a few shootout moves they could possibly use, they might have an additional 3-5 points by this stage of the season.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  3. JDM
    March 7, 2013

    I have not proposed pulling the goalie in OT to avoid going to the shootout. However, I do think that, given their woeful inefficiency in the shootout format, that they are more likely to win in OT than in the shootout. Consequently, in my view, the Canucks should press the issue more when in the OT. I.e., play as if you’re down a goal with 5 minutes left, not as if you’re tied.

    Now, the Canucks’ 5 on 3 record is, notably, entirely comprised of non-overtime 5 on 3′s. The overtime power play is significantly more dangerous because by that point, everyone’s pretty tired, including the goalie, and there are more lanes open out there. What are the odds of scoring on an overtime 4 on 3, per minute of PP time? I bet the stats would show that those power plays result in goals more frequently than regulation 4 on 3 PP’s. So I don’t think they’re ACTUALLY under at 50% odds if they do this.

    However, rule 84.2 makes it a moot point because no one will do this and risk losing the charity point. And they shouldn’t. If rule 84.2 DIDN’T exist, I could see a legitimate argument that the risk of the other team scoring on the EN is significantly less than your team scoring on the 5 on 3. But with rule 84.2, it’s moot. I do not see what the point of rule 84.2 is, in light of that – wouldn’t the NHL WANT to incetivize teams to go all-out to end it in OT? It makes the OT more exciting. I don’t get it.

    So anyway, that’s what I think about the Canucks and OT. If the NHL would just be sensible and adopt a 3 point system (3 for reg win, 2 for OT win, 1 for shootout win, 0 for any loss), this wouldn’t have to be discussed because the incentive would already be there.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +4 (from 6 votes)
  4. Casey
    March 7, 2013

    You get one point for just getting to overtime don’t you? So this:
    “In effect, rather than banking the first point and trying your luck with, say, a sub-50% shot at the second (because in this hypothetical, they’re worse than average, remember), pulling the goalie means your odds of getting the two points drop below 50% anyway, and your odds of getting no points skyrocket up from 0%.”
    is not true, if you pulled the Goalie in OT you still get 1 point. I still wouldn’t do it though.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Casey
      March 7, 2013

      Just read Rule 84.2, I get it now

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  5. Brent
    March 7, 2013

    Oh ya, we should definitely pull the goalie in overtime. In fact, it would be better to pull the goalie when we don’t have a power play, that way if the other team miss the net, it will be icing. It is definitely time to flip the pool – fire the whole coaching staff, bring back iron Mike, trade 1 of the sedin’s and throw Kessler in with a bag of pucks as well, and punt on first down. We are half way through the season, all in boys, all in.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +12 (from 12 votes)
  6. chinook
    March 7, 2013

    Wowser, you’re a tough act to follow Brent!

    Here’s another NHL inconsistency for games that go to overtime (but not to a shootout): in the regular season the winner gets 2 points and the loser gets 1. So why not in the Stanley Cup playoffs? A team could claim the cup on three wins and two O/T losses. What a hilarious(?) insult that would be!

    On a slightly more serious note: I doubt using the same shooters all the time would work. I’m pretty sure other teams don’t, except for a few really good shooters, like Kane and Kovalchuk. (Hey! maybe its a K-thing, so lets always use Kassian and Kesler). And if AV really had such extreme disdain for the shootout, wouldn’t he call on Henrik, Daniel and the back-up goalie?

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      March 7, 2013

      I think in fact most teams that are successful in shootouts tend not to vary their shooters all that much. Since this article is about the scoring half of the shootout, it’s best to factor out goaltending and just look at shooting percentage. For the year, 9 teams are 50% or better shooting in the shootout. 6 of those teams have a winning record, (the other 3 being .500), and of those 9, 5 have participated in at least 3 shootouts. Those 5 teams are Buffalo, St Louis, Minnesota, Edmonton and the Islanders. Buffalo, Minny and the Islanders have all employed only 3 shooters for all of their shootouts, Edmonton has used four different guys. Only the Blues have varied their shooters much, using 7 different guys, though TJ Oshie has shot in every shootout. Vigneault has used 9 guys, albeit in more different shootouts. Clearly he has his go-tos, like Burrows who has taken 6 shots and Edler with 4, but Burrows is 1/6 and Edler 1/4. I think if he had those guys practise, and picked another 1 or 2 guys who knew they would consistently be selected, they might have a little more success.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        March 7, 2013

        Oops, Edler is actually 0/4.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • nanodummy
        March 7, 2013

        Didn’t Daniel state that only 3 teams have been consistently successful in shootouts, and that they are probably lucky outliers as opposed to talented outliers?

        Apply your study to 5 seasons and find the results. I’m skeptical that you’ll see a pattern for success.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  7. Warpstone
    March 7, 2013

    LOL, I had the same reaction to McDonald’s column. It makes about as much sense as scoring an own-goal to free yourself from losing due to your dreaded 2-goal lead!

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  8. Mt
    March 7, 2013

    I’ll pile in with the ‘howsabout practicing the fricking shootout’ crowd. I clearly remember AV saying that it isn’t something that can be practiced which is rediculous. It’s a highly practicable skill. At least the likely shooters should have around 3 different moves mastered, ideally some of which look the same until part way through. That seems pretty basic to me. Finish practice with a shootout, your players will get better at it.

    Also, unless I’m reading that article about how shootouts are crapshoots wrong (which is likely because by ‘reading’ I mean reading the first 2 paragraphs, rolling my eyes and barely skimming the rest), it basically says that because players with exceptional general (point producing) hockey skills aren’t the same ones that have shootout skills, the shootout is therefor random. Huh? Maybe (I hope) I missed some better logic because that’s sorely lacking in it.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  9. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    March 8, 2013

    “Here’s rule 84.2, which I’m guessing the NHL didn’t think would ever come into play, but wrote into the rulebook just in case:”

    It comes into play every overtime, essentially, because it is a necessary safeguard in a system where you have nothing to lose. You already have your point, so effectively the only risk of doing absolutely *anything* you want in OT is getting scored on first… but not actually being any worse off than you already are. And surrendering a goal in this case is only an opportunity cost, which doesn’t weigh nearly as heavily on the human psyche as the chance of losing something you already have (hence, “risk aversity”).

    It’s the same reason why a player gets added to the opposition in OT if you take two penalties. (When you’re already 4-on-3 and have nothing to lose in a frame where you’re going to be shorthanded the rest of the way anyway, why not just take more penalties to get to the shootout?) You need a disincentive.

    So if there were no disincentive against pulling the goalie, attacking teams would probably pull their goalie the first chance they got where it was worth it (maybe somewhere around the 4:00 mark of OT if they were controlling the puck) and basically get a free power play.

    For the record, Canuck fans saw this rule invoked in the very first season of 3-point OT (1999-2000). The Canucks needed 2 points to keep their playoff hopes alive (I think it was the second-last game of the season), and were on pace for a tie, so they pulled the goalie about halfway through overtime, and got scored on, and so got 0 points that game.

    Interestingly, had they played the game to a tie, they would have finished one point up on Anaheim and drafted after them instead of before them. (Chicago had that draft pick anyway because of the Sedin wheeling and dealin in 1999, and used it on Pavel Vorobiev).

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)