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Expect Devils to Improve in Shootout, But Not Necessarily With a Winning Record

As the 2014-15 season begins and after a preseason where the New Jersey Devils actually won a shootout, I look at the history of the worst shootout teams by NHL season to determine what we should expect for the Devils going forward.

The Devils won one shootout in the preseason.  History says to expect them to win at least one in this coming season.
The Devils won one shootout in the preseason. History says to expect them to win at least one in this coming season.
Bruce Bennett

As NHL teams have to be compliant with the salary cap and roster limits by Tuesday at 5 PM, today's waiver activity should be in everyone's interest.  When the Devils make their moves, we'll react accordingly.  And don't get mad if Jon Merrill gets moved down to make another move elsewhere.  Until then, let's discuss the shootout.

The New Jersey Devils put up the worst shootout record in NHL history last season.  They were not the first to lose more than ten shootouts.  They were not the first to lose all of their shootouts in a season.  They were the first to lead the league in shootout losses while also winning none of them.   Those lost points were part of the reason why the last game of the regular season was the team's last until this Thursday.  The general sentiment in predictions and previews is that the Devils most likely will not be that bad again.  I agree with that.  But what should we expect instead?  To find an answer, I looked at the league's historical records in shootouts.

The shootout enters its tenth season, so there's quite a few worst-shootout teams for the 2013-14 teams for comparison purposes.  I took a quick look at the shootout win percentage charts at Sporting Charts and denoted the worst teams in each season in two categories.  The first: shootout win percentage, which was the purpose of the chart.  The lowest percentage is technically the worst record as it represents the fewest amount of points earned.   The second was most shootout losses in a season.   In some seasons, the team with the lowest winning percentage didn't concede nearly as many points to their opponents as other teams.  For example, in 2006-07, Carolina went 0-5 whereas Washington went 1-11.  Not winning any shootouts is definitely not good, but Washington's performance was more damaging from a standings standpoint.  I would argue that they were worse, lone shootout win aside. In both cases, I noted the record of that team in the following season to see if there was any improvement.

Let's look at the teams who had the most shootout losses in the league in each season since 2005-06 first.  I included any ties for completion's sake.

Season Most SO Losses Record Next Season
2005-06 Edmonton 7-9 3-3
2006-07 Washington 1-11 4-4
2007-08 NY Rangers 8-9 10-6
2007-08 Vancouver 6-9 3-7
2007-08 Buffalo 4-9 8-5
2008-09 Tampa Bay 3-10 4-7
2009-10 Dallas 7-10 5-7
2009-10 Florida 6-10 4-7
2009-10 Columbus 2-10 5-8
2010-11 Edmonton 2-9 5-7
2011-12 Montreal 5-12 3-2
2013 New Jersey 2-7 0-13
2013-14 New Jersey 0-13 ???

The key to look for is improvements in point differential.  For example, in 2006-07, the Capitals went 1-11 in the shootout.  That's a -10 differential as they conceded 11 points while earning only one.  In the following season, they went 4-4.  That's a differential of zero; but it's a massive gain over the ten points they allowed over the 2006-07 season.   It's also, incidentally, one of the biggest improvements since the shootout entered the NHL in 2005-06.  I considered any improvement in differential by five points to be significant.  Therefore, there have been six teams that have improved significantly.

In fact, all but two teams on this list improved somewhat.   Those exceptions, the teams that got worse in differential in the following season, were Vancouver in 2007-08 (-3 to -4) and (sigh) New Jersey in 2013 (-5 to -13).  Moreover, many of the teams that did improve in the next season, you'll note that most of them did not gain winning records.  Only three teams went from having the most shootout losses in the league in one season to having a winning record in the next: the Rangers in 2007-08, who were just below even anyway; Buffalo in 2007-08; and Montreal in 2011-12, who had the previous record in most shootout losses in a NHL season.

Of course, that's just the worst teams based on most shootout losses.  Let's consider the more traditional (and correct?) version of the worst: lowest winning percentage.

Season Worst SO Win% Team Record Next Season
2005-06 San Jose 1-7 2-2
2006-07 Carolina 0-5 2-3
2007-08 Columbus 3-8 6-7
2007-08 Minnesota 3-8 5-3
2008-09 Tampa Bay 3-10 4-7
2009-10 Columbus 2-10 5-8
2010-11 Edmonton 2-9 5-7
2011-12 Carolina 1-6 1-1
2013 Calgary 0-3 7-3
2013 Toronto 0-5 9-4
2013-14 New Jersey 0-13 ???

The immediate good news is that the three teams that went winless in the shootout won some in the next season.  Not that the 2006-07 Carolina, 2013 Calgary, and 2013 Toronto teams lost nearly as many as the 2013-14 Devils, but they rebounded with some wins in the following year. The best case scenario would be the massive bounce back the 2013 winless teams had.  Not that it helped either make the postseason, but at least it wasn't the shootout's fault.

Every one of the eleven teams (there were two teams tied in two separate seasons) improved on their shootout record. There were no repeats of being the worst shootout team by winning percentage.  However, this doesn't not mean they were necessarily good.  The 2007-08 Wild and the 2013 Flames and Leafs made big gains with records over even.    The majority were at or below .500 in the following season.

Between both, I came to the same conclusion in the headline.  Based on past records in the shootout, we can expect the Devils to not be the worst again.  That's not saying much by itself.  You can't do worse than going winless and you can't do worse than losing the most shootouts other than doing both. The former has not happened in NHL history and the latter only once - by the same Devils team that caused me to look at this.  A lot would have to go awry for that a repeat.  The bad news is that, again based on history, we shouldn't necessarily expect the Devils to be a good shootout team.  So unless the goaltending gets amazing and the shooters score a lot of goals, the shootout could be a concern.   The realistic expectation should be that it doesn't hold the team back as much as it did last year.