Every sport has them. The NFL has punters, the MLB has closers and the NHL has enforcers. Heck, even the NBA has those guys who are really good at shooting three-pointers and nothing else.Today, I offer you a question: Is it time for a new one? Is it time for NHL teams to start using a shootout specialist?

What’s a shootout specialist? 

Well, the simple answer is someone who is really good at shootouts, but you probably could have figured that out yourself. Instead, I will provide you with a statistical example of such a player and a few reasons why they may be helpful. Then, you can tell me that either I kinda make sense or that I’m really stupid. Either way, share your feelings in the comments section.

Now, to return to shootouts. Since they were introduced before the start of the 2005/06 season we have seen very consistent results from the shootout. Except for this year (450*) and 2009/10 (1,398) there have been roughly 1,000 shootout attempts every season. The shooters have also been fairly consistent never scoring more than 35.56% of the time or less than 30.59%.

Photo credit: Rick Stewart

Photo credit: Rick Stewart

 

This last stat tells us two things: that the average NHL player will score roughly a third of the time and that the average NHLer isn’t very good at shootouts.

Scoring once every three times you have a breakaway, with no defenders chasing you and all the time in the world, simply isn’t good. Sorry, this isn’t baseball.

This brings me to our shootout specialist. A player you stash on your bench as a third 0r fourth-liner who, if anything, contributes by being a neutral player. He doesn’t really add anything, but can be counted on not to screw up. The important part is that he is “clutch” in the shootout. By “clutch” I mean being roughly a 66% shooter, or twice as good as the average player. Shooting 66% isn’t an incredibly high number, but relative to the field he is a significant upgrade.

Obviously, the ideal situation would be to have a player who is highly talented and just happens to be good at shootouts. A lot of the time, this is the case. However, for most teams, they don’t have three of them.

The real question most of you are probably thinking is do teams really need a shootout specialist? Are shootouts really that important?

By virtue of shootouts being the deciding factor between one point or two points, I would answer yes, and the statistics back it up.

Every year, the shootout has occurred in somewhere between 11% and 15% of all games. This stat alone shows the significant of the shootouts. Assuming a shootout occurs at least 11% of the time, projecting it over the course of a full 82 game season would mean that roughly nine points will be decided by the shootout.

Nine whole points! And the total swells to a potential 12 points if a shootout occurs 15% of the time. Easily the difference between making the playoffs or playing golf in April.

Take the 2012/13 Toronto Maple Leafs for example. Excluding Tyler Bozak (3/4), the rest of the Leafs are a combined 0/17. Zero. Nothing. Seventeen breakaways resulting in zero goals!

Unsurprisingly, the Leafs are 0-4 in the shootout this season.

The time is now for the NHL to welcome a shootout specialist. At least it is in Toronto.