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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJjjlJbZq3U

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?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IVLqVGgYU0

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