It's hard to believe, but the shootout has been with us for eight seasons. The breakaway competition was adopted at the start of the 2005-06 season as a way to settle games that were tied after overtime. Shootouts have turned into must-see TV. How many times have you been flicking around the dial and stopped to watch when you saw teams getting ready to go to the tiebreaker?
Some teams and some players have fared far better than others in the shootout -- and the most successful players aren't always the biggest names. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner in his five NHL seasons, is just 5-for-27 (18.5 percent) in the shootout. Patrick Sharp, who scored 20 or more goals in the past six unabridged seasons, is 8-for-41 (19.5 percent). Meanwhile, Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders, with all of 60 career goals in regulation and overtime, has 25 shootout goals in 45 tries (55.6 percent).
Nor do top goaltenders always fare well. Miikka Kiprusoff, who finished last season with 319 career victories, is just 23-35 in shootouts with a .605 save percentage. Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Colorado Avalanche each has a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup championship, but Ward is 11-22 with a .616 save percentage in the tiebreaker while Giguere is 21-29 and has a save percentage of .600. In contrast, Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen has battled injuries and inconsistency throughout his career, but is 33-19 with a .722 save percentage in shootouts.
Performances also can vary from season to season -- James Neal was 0-for-10 in 2009-10 and 0-for-2 in 2010-11 with the Dallas Stars before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then, he's 9-for-15, including 2-for-2 last season.
Here's a look at some of today's best at both ends of the shootout:
Frans Nielsen -- Only one active player with 20 or more shootout attempts has cashed in on more than half of them. That player is Nielsen, who has scored on 25 of his 45 tries for a 55.6-percent success rate -- despite going 2-for-7 (.286) last season. Nielsen's trademark move is a backhand deke, though he's started mixing up his repertoire by using a quick-release wrister as well.
Pavel Datsyuk -- No player in the eight-year history of the shootout has been successful more times than Datsyuk, who has 33 goals on 72 shots for a 45.8-percent success rate. But if style points were awarded, the Detroit Red Wings center would lap the field. He is among the most entertaining players in shootout history, and neither the opposing goaltender nor the fans in the stands know what move he'll try next. The term "Datsyukian deke" has taken its place in hockey's lexicon largely because of his variety of shootout moves.
Zach Parise -- He may not have a signature move like Nielsen or the stylistic splendor of Datsyuk, but Parise knows how to get the job done in the tiebreaker. He was 3-for-6 in his first season with the Minnesota Wild after going 8-for-16 with the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12. Parise is 32-for-69 (46.4 percent) in his career, and has gone 15-for-28 (53.5 percent) on the road.
Jonathan Toews -- The Chicago Blackhawks like to have their captain lead off in the shootout, and with good reason. He's 27-for-55 (49.1 percent) in the tiebreaker during his career -- but at home, where the Blackhawks always opt to go first, he's 17-for-29 (58.5 percent). Toews and Patrick Kane (6-for-11 last season) were the most prolific one-two punch in the League in 2012-13.
Marc-Andre Fleury -- Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers has more victories, but Fleury's .696 winning percentage (39 wins in 56 shootouts) is by far the best of any goaltender with 20 or more victories, and his save percentage is less than a percentage point behind Lundqvist for the all-time lead. At his best in the shootout, Fleury looks all but unbeatable -- he was 3-0 for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season after leading the NHL with nine wins in 11 decisions in 2011-12.
Henrik Lundqvist -- No one has faced more shots (287) or won more shootouts (45) than Lundqvist, whose skill in the tiebreaker has been a key for the Rangers during the past eight seasons. His .763 save percentage is No. 1 all-time among goaltenders who have faced 100 or more shots -- although he undoubtedly would like another crack at the season-ending goals he allowed on a final-day shootout at Philadelphia in 2010, a loss that kept the Rangers out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Antti Niemi -- The San Jose Sharks went to a shootout in 12 of their 48 games last season. Thanks to Niemi, they won eight of those games and made the playoffs. The Sharks converted 35.1 percent of their opportunities, barely above the League average, but Niemi stopped 24 of 33 opposition attempts (72.7 percent). His career save percentage of .759 is third behind Lundqvist and Fleury, and he's won 25 of 40 shootout decisions.
Semyon Varlamov -- At age 25, Varlamov has had his ups and downs so far in the NHL, but his performance in shootouts is a definite positive. He split his only two decisions last season for the Colorado Avalanche, but was 8-0 in the tiebreaker the previous season and allowed only two goals on 24 tries. For his career, he's 13-7 (.650), with a .775 save percentage (16 goals on 71 attempts).
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist