Radical Fix to Hockey’s Overtime Mess

Overtime in the NHL is a mess. Who wants to watch a languid five-minute overtime with guys on tired legs? And who – except for Dad’s of goalies – wants to watch a shootout? Hockey purists rail en masse against winning games via shootout, and against having to watch so many games end that way. Of course the occasional shootout can be awesome, as they were in the last winter Olympics. Guys like T.J. Oshie became household names by blowing up the shootout in Sochi. Remember his outrageous performance against Russia?

Going 4-6 in the shootout was amazing, and gave a huge boost to American pride and interest in Team USA hockey. I remember watching it live with my family and just going crazy as it happened. That shootout was one for the ages.

Meanwhile, back on the real ice

With the uniqueness of the Olympics gone for another four years, back on the real ice, overtime reality in the NHL settles in. With the current point structure, many teams appear to go through the motions in the regular season when the game is tied late in the third period. “Okay, we got a point” seems to be the mentality. And, “If we win in overtime or in the shootout we’ll be glad to have another one.” While an overtime period can be exciting, with most teams finding a burst of energy that propels them to the net in search of the sudden-death winning goal, oftentimes the languished play of the tied third period seeps in to the overtime. It’s just boring. Even the “4 on 4” overtime has lost its novel appeal.

What’s the game all about anyway? Scoring, right? Hockey is a fast, hard-fought game for three periods. In many cases, it can be exciting in the overtime period, also. But, when fatigue or lack of concern about the extra point sets in, inevitably the game ends up in a shootout.

I personally like shootouts. (My son was a soccer goalie.) I like the shooter versus goalie challenge. But, I will concede that the shootout can end up being a letdown at the end of what otherwise was an exciting, tense hockey game.

AHL getting overtime right?

The American Hockey League implemented a new overtime rule this past July. Here’s the new rule from the AHL website:

Rule 85 (“Overtime”)

    • During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be seven minutes (7:00) in length, preceded by a “dry scrape” of the entire ice surface.
    • Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.
    • Full playing strength will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle following three minutes of play (4:00 remaining), at which time full strength will be reduced to 3-on-3 for the duration of the overtime period.
  • If the game is still tied following overtime, a winner will be determined by a three-player shootout.

The impact of the new overtime rule in the AHL has been very well-received. In a post on November 5th, Stu Hackel of The Hockey News reported that

“through the 138 AHL games played through last Sunday, Nov. 2, 30 contests went beyond regulation and only five – yes, FIVE — have gone to a shootout. That’s merely 16.7 percent, a stunningly drastic decrease.”

In a post on December 31st, Pat Graham reported in the Times Colonist on AHL President and CEO David Andrews saying:

“Last year, the AHL had 65 per cent of its OT games decided in a shootout. This season, it’s shrunk to 25 per cent.”

The new overtime rule in the AHL is definitely working to decide hockey games on the ice, and not in shootouts. For the hockey purists, this is great news, and is putting a bit of pressure on the NHL to change the way that games at their level are decided in overtime:

Should the NHL make changes to its overtime rules? Should they follow the pattern of the AHL? I say yes, and no. They should make changes to overtime, but I propose a much more radical idea.

Here’s the idea: Power play baby!

College football has its overtime scenario wherein each team gets the ball and a chance to score. The idea to radically change the NHL’s overtime rule is similar. If there is a tie at the end of regulation, there is zero (0) points awarded to either team.

After a break, each team will be given a three-minute power play. The team that goes first will get the chance to score as many goals as they can in that three-minute man advantage time. Then the opposing team gets a three-minute power play and the chance to score as many goals as well. They will either win, lose, or tie the game.

Sounds wild, huh? But would you rather watch a shootout or something like this:


I bet that Detroit Red Wings fans would rather watch Henrik Zetterberg send a great pass to Gustav Nyquist on a power play like in the video above. What do you think?

End Result

The team that wins during the power play overtime gets two points. The losing team goes home with zip. How’s that for creating meaning to overtime? The fans will surely love watching two three-minute power plays with unlimited scoring allowed. Remember my colleague with The Hockey Writers, Andy Dudones writing about the Nashville Predators beating the Philadelphia Flyers, a game in which the Preds scored two power play goals in thirty seconds?


The pressure to shoot and charge the net by the offense will be enormous, as will the tension on the penalty kill unit(s):

Another wrinkle to this idea is the strategy coaches will have to employ in deciding the makeup of both units. For example, Bill Peters of the Carolina Hurricanes would have to decide if he wanted a two-way player like Jordan Staal on the power play unit or the penalty kill unit. Or some of both? Would the Predators want Shea Weber and his booming shot on the overtime power play, or his defense prowess on the overtime penalty kill? Would PK Subban be a bigger threat on the power play or on the penalty kill?

At three minutes – obviously longer than a normal power play, all kinds of coaching strategies would need to be developed. Offensive and defensive assumptions might have to be tossed for something more creative on the part of coaches.

Can you imagine Tyler Seguin in your goalie’s face with the chance to score more than one goal on a power play?

Out of the box, I know

All in all the overtime power play concept is radical and could bring welcome change and excitement to the NHL. Oh, what if the game is still tied at the end of the brand new, sure to be well-loved overtime power play concept I am proposing? You go to the shootout of course. Each team gets a point and the shootout winner gets the extra point just like the game is decided now.

I bet that shootouts will become even rarer in the NHL than they have in the AHL under my proposed overtime change. And I am sure the fans and players will love the increased excitement. What do you think? Good idea? Bad? Let me hear from you.

Mark Shiver is a staff writer for The Hockey Writers  credentialed with the Carolina Hurricanes. You can follow him on Twitter @markshiver

30 thoughts on “Radical Fix to Hockey’s Overtime Mess”

  1. Like it. Have had this idea for a while as well. Some tweaks. Shorten each team’s segment to one minute and make it four on three, no goalie at the attacking end’s side and the defense can’t score. If the defense commits a penalty it’s a 5 on 3 for the full amount of the penalty, no matter how much time is left on the clock. If the offense commits a penalty it kills their chance. If a team scores it ends their segment, no infinite scoring. Just like college football Attacking team starts with the puck behind their net and has to work it into the opposing zone. The idea will never happen but it’s still fun to think about anything better than the shootout and the tie.

  2. Basic economic theory: reward what you want more of. Therefore, two points for a win. Zero points for everything else. Strategy will instantly change from play-not-to-lose to play-to-win. All the Lemaires and Sutters and boring-as-h3ll coaches who hope to get to OT or SO will be fossilized like so much dinosaur p00p.

  3. Before worrying about how to fix OT, the NHL needs to address the way teams approach the third period of a tie game (John Tortorella was notorious for this when he was coaching the Rangers; having Lundqvist helped). I’ve seen teams (like JT’s Rangers) sit on a tie with 15 minutes left in the game! Talk about getting bored to death!

    There’s also the inequity of a game being decided in regulation and a game going past 60 minutes as far as the rest of the league is concerned. If I’m a Nashville Predators fan watching the Blackhawks play the Blues, I don’t care so much who wins. Just please, please, pretty please don’t go to OT and give the loser a point!

    The solution: make EVERY game a 3 point game! If you win in regulation, you get 3 points. If the game goes to OT or a shootout, the winner gets 2 and the loser gets 1. (Even better, forget the shootout and if the game is tied after OT, each team gets 1 point and the 3rd point disappears.) I don’t think you’ll see coaches play rope-a-dope for entire third periods with the score tied. The last few minutes of a cross-conference game that is tied is often the kind of display which makes casual observers wonder why we like hockey, because it’s a game that is devoid of offensive action. Dump, change, wait for other team to dump and make their change, skate to center, dump it in, rinse and repeat until time runs out. Yawn. Still can’t get over Barry Trotz breaking that mold in the Winter Classic game.

  4. just to add re the 3 point games….:personally I think 3 points for a regulation win makes more sense than the present situation where a regulation winner and a shootout winner earn the SAME points.

    just saying !!

  5. In short, switch to 3 point games ! …we’re already handing out 3 points for games that don’t end in regulation anyway…so give 3 pts to regulation winners. You will probably see more intensity and less occasions where both teams are coasting into OT and therefore more games ending in regulation which indirectly was what everyone was striving for anyway. (It’s a fairly big change but not as insane as some of what is being proposed)

  6. My 2-cents worth……
    I like rhodepop’s proposal, except have the overtime extended to
    10 minutes @ 4-4. After that, it’s a tie !!!!!
    No more shoot-outs !!!!!

  7. I admit – I kind of like the idea. One tweak could be to run the first power play until the attacking team gets a goal – with a 3 minute max. Once the attacking team gets a goal, run the clock the opposite way – in other words, whichever PP unit scores a goal “first” wins. Any SHG causes that team to automatically win. If both teams go 3 minutes on the PP without a goal, then for cryin’ out loud, just leave it at a tie.

    For a real cool game theory situation, you could have just ONE power-period. Visitors get to decide the length of the period. After hearing the length of the period, home team gets to decide whether to attack (PP) or defend (PK). If the attackers score in the power-period, they win. But if a SHG – or no goal at all – is scored, the defenders win (and, for scoring purposes, the defenders get a “team goal” for a successful defense of the PP). This has the advantage of eliminating ties, eliminating shootouts, and bringing a strategic wrinkle into coaching.

    If the visitors pick too short of a time, like 30 seconds, home team will defend and likely win. If they pick too long of a time, like 7 minutes, home team gets 7 minutes on a PP to score a goal, and will likely win. Picking the sweet spot would be tough, and very opponent-dependent. Or, heck, if you don’t like the pick-a-time aspect, just have a fixed length – say, 4 minutes – and let the home team decide whether they defend or attack.

  8. It’s as if you don’t watch overtime. I have Game Center. If I see a game is going to OT I switch to it right away because it’s often end-to-end the entire time. Shootouts are super boring. It’s like watching baseball because we have to wait a minute to watch 10 seconds of action.

    In regards to your suggestion, while I would prefer to have special teams determine the game over a skills competition, special teams efficiency is already a big determinant of games, especially for teams that play a stifling 5-on-5 game. Also, shorthanded players are more likely to get injured from blocking shots. I don’t think a lot of GM’s will appreciate this kind of gimmick.

    I am a purist, I prefer the regulation game (5-on-5). But I can’t deny 4-on-4 is exciting. I get the AHL system and I’m all for its adoption in the NHL next year so there are fewer shootouts, a boring and ridiculous point-decider.

  9. More completely arbitrary ways to decide a game. None of which would be employed come playoffs. Why continue to decide a game with gimmicks. Play 5 or 7 minutes OT and if it is tied, then each team gets a point.

    The shootout is a joke.

  10. you wanna know the solution to the overtime conundrum? if the game is tied after 3 periods of play said game goes down as a tie and each team gets a point. at the end of the season the top 16 teams with the most points get into the playoffs. what a novel idea, huh? worked for years before all the stupid shit they have now. the playoffs stay as they are.

  11. Allowing a team and a player to get more than one goal in overtime is idiotic (throw hundreds years of stats and records out the window). People need to stop acting like they know what is best for the game. The NHL commissioner and all the GM’s need to put 3 to 5 options on the table and let the players vote. Who knows better than the guys who are the actual professionals and started playing the game as kids. I think the AHL way is a good idea, and the IIHF scoring system isn’t bad either but I say leave it to the people who are directly affected by it, the fans will accept what the players want.

  12. Keith S, the score-as-many-goals-as-you-can rule was changed after Jean Beliveau scored 3 in a row on Nov 5th 1955. It’s known as the Beliveau Hat Trick.

  13. the idea is to end the game as soon as possible so you putting an additional 3+3 minutes of play goes against the point. I have to disagree with you on 4-on-4. it is pretty exciting as they go back and forth and I don’t think it’s gone stale. We just need more games to be decided without the shootout

  14. Personally I LOVE the shoot-out.
    I would like to see zero points for a regulation tie, One point to each team after 5-min overtime and an additional point to the shoot-out winner.

  15. Regarding the possibility of the short-handed goal? A short-handed goal instantly ends the game. The team scoring the shortie wins it, period. Sudden death.

  16. Mark, using your Power Play concept, here’s an even simpler solution. OT has a coin toss to determine who goes on the PP first 5-on-4. That team (Team A) has 3 minutes to score. If they score, say with 1:30 left in the PP, (I.E. scored the goal in 1:30), the other team (Team B) has their turn but the clock is set to 1:30 instead of 3:00. If they score sooner than 1:30, they win. If they don’t they lose, game over If neither team scores in 3 minutes, they go through another round but this time 5-on-3 and they stay 5-on-3 until a result is achieved.

    The only exclusion to that could be that if the regulation game ends in a PP for say Team A, they automatically start the OT with the PP at 3 minutes plus whatever time was left on the PP at the end of regulation.

    From there the same system applies.

  17. Good read with some interesting statistics; I’ve been curious how effective the new OT rules have been in the AHL. Personally, I can’t stand shootouts and could never grasp why OT games should total out to 3 points. You’re suggestion of college-football-style powerplays would certainly be entertaining and introduce a lot more urgency, but (as you eluded to) would be a bit radical. An interesting proposition nonetheless!

  18. Fantastic idea. Two modifications though: Let’s make it a five-minute power play, just like for a major penalty – five minutes each way. Also, if the idea catches on, an optional wrinkle to throw in would be to count goals scored while on the “disadvantage” double. This would force the team on the “advantage” to not forget the defensive aspect of a power play.

  19. What and utterly ridiculous and moronic idea. How exactly would shorthanded goals figure in to the situation? Would they negate 1 of the powerplay teams goals? Would they count as a goal for the team that scored it when they go on the power play? What about penalties? if a team is on he 3 minute powerplay and takes a minor penalty, is their 3 minute powerpaly over?
    Thanks for wasting everyone’s time. Perhaps writing about hockey isn’t your bag

  20. What about shorthanded goals? They count for the team that scored when they are on the PP? They deduct from the opposing team’s PP total? They end the PP?

    You get points for thinking outside the box, but personally my ideal is a return to 5 min OT 4-4 then the game just ends in a tie. Both teams get a point. And even though I don’t have any kids playing goalie, my second choice is what we have now, there are very few things in sports more exciting than a breakaway in hockey, and isn’t that what a shootout is? But if you are bound to make a change, change the shootout to a 2-1 breakaway, now you have some defense, and the coaches will have to decide to use that Star Defenseman on defense or on the breakaway?

  21. Power plays used to be score-as-many-as-you-can in the time allotted, but they removed that rule years ago due to some teams running up the score. Obviously awarding a point for tying at the end of regulation is sheer stupidity and needs to go. There’s no fight to win the game earlier. 4-on-4 hockey is not that exciting and neither are power plays most of the time. 5 min OT is not enough time. 10 mins is better with 5-on-5. You’ll see more action and fight. Power plays will happen more frequently in OT. To have score-as-many-goals-as-you-can power plays is no different than a shootout. It’s not traditional and likely never will get off the ground. We don’t need 14-12 hockey scores.

  22. Something you don’t address…what if their is a penalty or multiple penalties called in the overtime? Then what? Multiple penalties could make the OT a circus.

    Personally, I like the 4 on 4/3 on 3 for 7 minutes a lot better. Also, I like the idea of a team getting 3 points if winning in regulation; 2 points if winning in OT or shoot-out (1 to the losing team). That would make regulation time that much more significant.

  23. That would certainly liven up the overtime period! The part I love the most about your idea, though, is 0 points awarded for tying in regulation. The NHL needs to do SOMETHING, though. A game shouldn’t be decided by a skills competition!

  24. I like the idea of awarding ZERO points if the game is tied at the end of regulation. this would provided some needed urgency to the overtime. But if you do this; the overtime will need to be extended.

  25. I like it. It is better than how it is currently. At least change how points are awarded. 0 points for a loss. Period. Would the home team get to choose if they want to go on the power play first or penalty kill first? Or do that by a flip of a coin?
    How about if a penalty occurs to the team on the power play? Does the power play end or does it go to even strength? Does the penalty carry over to the next penalty kill/power play? Bettman loves the shoot out though so unfortunately it will not go away.

  26. Don’t let the sodo person get you down, it is an interesting idea, and yes most of us would rather watch 5 on 4 for each team than shootouts.

  27. Terrible idea. I read half the article and stopped due to the sheer stupidity of the suggestions. Hey, here’s an idea, why not just play overtime with both teams having to pull their goalies?

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