Overtime Changes Successful in the AHL; NHL Next?

After the 2004-05 lockout season the NHL implemented the shootout into its overtime rules instead of games ending in a tie.  This was done mainly to drive fan interest back into the NHL when it seemed to be at its lowest point.  The shootout has seemed to be a hot issue for the NHL as of late.  Many believe that the shootout is just a skills competition and no longer the ideal way to decide an important game.

Some teams, once they get to overtime lock it down and try to get to the shootout.  This is starting to become an issue for the NHL and team executives.  The NHL has recognized the issue and began testing a new idea in the AHL this season.  The AHL has been a great testing ground for the NHL with some ideas, including the hybrid icing that was implemented last season.

The AHL approved a new overtime format this season.  First change is the overtime period went from 5 minutes to 7 minutes.  The second big change is that after 4 minutes of 4 on 4, the shootout will not follow, instead another 3 minutes of 3 on 3 hockey.  If still no winner is determined after the full 7 minutes, then a shootout would occur to determine a winner.

This new rule has been extremely successful in greatly limiting games that are going to a shootout.  Last season 35% of all games that went past regulation were decided in overtime.  Under these new rules through the end of November, 77% of games that have gone past regulation have been decided in overtime.  Fans love the shootout, but 3 minutes of action packed 3 on 3 hockey has been exciting to watch.  I think seeing three minutes of 3 on 3 between players like Crosby, Malkin and Letang against Kane, Toews and Keith would be more entertaining than a shootout.

With how well this overtime format has gone at the AHL, I think it would be surprising if the NHL didn’t implement this rule next season.  Also with all the open ice and skilled players at the NHL level, it’ll make it difficult for teams to lock it down and get to the shootout.  This is something that the NHL can roll out to fans as a new way to bring more excitement to games.