You don’t have to look far to find someone upset with how overtime is handled in the NHL. Some people want teams to get three points for regulation wins. Some want the return of the tie. Others want to see a second overtime after the 4-on-4 that features the teams going 3-on-3 for five minutes. But basically everyone agrees that the shootout, at best a fun way to end a practice, doesn’t give any indication of who is the better team in a game and is thus awarding the second point for the win arbitrarily.
Among those who’d probably love a rule change is anyone who has anything to do with the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are an almost comical 0-for-14 on shootouts in their last 14, with 13 of those coming last year when they went 0-for-13.
That hurts. It hurts even more if you were to spot them the league average of 5.93 points earned through shootout wins last season. If they got six points on the shootout, they would have made the playoffs.
What the AHL Did
While you can’t do that, you can adjust the rules like the American Hockey League (AHL) did over the summer. The AHL implemented a longer overtime period that features both 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 hockey in an effort to have more games end with a regulation or overtime win (ROW) rather than a shootout win.
The exact methodology isn’t giving a second period of 3-on-3, but a transition taking place after the first whistle following the three-minute mark of overtime. Here are the exact details on that rule change:
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.
What it did
Here’s where we stand. Creating a break as close to 100 games as possible into this season and last season, we can get a picture, at least an early picture, of what kind of a difference that change is making.
Through the first 96 games of the 2013-14 season (every game from opening night through October 25) 65 games ended in regulation, 11 in overtime — eight at 4-on-4 and three at 4-on-3 during a power play, and 20 went to a shootout.
Through the first 99 games of the 2014-15 season with the new rules changes (every game from opening night through October 26) 77 have ended in regulation (an increase that has nothing to do with the overtime rule changes), six ended during 4-on-4 overtime, two during 4-on-3 overtime, ten during 3-on-3 overtime, and four during a shootout.
So, 22% of games this season have gone beyond three periods while 32.3% of games went beyond regulation last season. That’s an increase that has nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but is a notable shift that may be due to the small sample size. I think we’ll see that gap disappear as the season moves along.
What we can note though is that 64.5% of overtime games last season ended in a shootout. Whereas only 18.1% of overtime games have ended in a shootout this season. Overall that means only 4.03% of games have gone to a shootout this season, while 20.83% went last year.
There are a lot of factors involved and it seems obvious that giving more time in any format to overtime will result in more games being won before the shootout, but the numbers are so drastically different that it’s clear that these changes are working and having a large effect.
We’ll keep tabs on whether this trend continues, but if the results are this drastic and they’re only adding two minutes to the game, it may be worth exploring at the NHL level. Two minutes wouldn’t drastically change broadcasts and may even result in average game time being shorter. (Shootouts can be slow and the 3-on-3 would start while there is currently a 4-on-4 situation under the current rules.) A rule change at the NHL level would give teams like the Devils a more accurate representation in the standings and may increase playoff competition, by not blocking out better teams who fail at skills competitions. It’d mean more points being distributed through playing hockey instead of every 12-year-old’s favorite part of pee-wee practice.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.