The time has come for overtime reform

The Shootout has brought us some great moments, but it’s finally time to cut down on the skills competition. (Credit: Thefanmanifesto.com)

When the shootout was implemented following the ’04-’05 NHL lockout, it was welcomed as a fresh, new alternative to the hockey scene. Instead of games ending in ties, there would finally be a defined winner and a loser in every game.

By making the change and resorting to a skills competition to decide a game, not only did the NHL get rid of the ambiguity of the tie, it was also a chance on the league’s part to try and appeal to the “casual” hockey fan; one who might find a one-on-one shooter vs. goalie showdown more exciting than a sudden death goal scored during actual hockey gameplay in overtime.

At first it was popular, and don’t get me wrong, there have been some truly amazing shootout moments over the years since. But after a while, the novelty began to wear off, especially among hockey diehards. Fans had seen all the great moves and all the great saves, and the Marek Malik’s of the world had even gotten their moments in the sun.

In recent seasons, NHL General Managers, led by Detroit’s Ken Holland, have voiced growing concerns over the fact that so many games have been, and are continuing to be decided via a glorified skills competition, and not by playing hockey. This year, that voice has finally mustered enough support to bring about small change in the NHL, and even bigger change in the AHL.

A Small Start

In an effort to now end more games in overtime as opposed to the shootout, the NHL now does a dry-scrape of the ice following the conclusion of regulation time. Teams also switch sides of the ice at the start of overtime with the thought that the longer change would lead to more goals. Could playing a full 60 minutes and having to make a longer change really have that much of an impact?.

Yes, the changes are small, and the results so far are reflecting that, but it is a start.

During the first month and a half of play last season, 65 percent of contests that went beyond regulation wound up being decided in a shootout. This season, through Friday’s games, that number has dropped to 55.5 percent, as 30 of the 55 games which have reached overtime have gone on to be decided in the shootout.

It definitely is a decrease, but it’s a small one. The majority of games that go beyond 60 minutes are however, still being decided in the skills competition.

But what about 3-on-3? This has been Ken Holland’s signature proposal from the get-go; adding a longer overtime that would consist of some 3-on-3 play. Sounds like a solid idea, but is it really hockey or something you would do with your buddies on a frozen pond?

Ken Holland (MLIVE)

Ken Holland (MLIVE)

Unfortunately for him though, he’s never quite had the support to bring this idea to fruition in the NHL.

There’s also been a lot of debate recently about just how effective adding 3-on-3 play during overtime would be in creating more offense. Those against it claim that 3-on-3 wouldn’t have the desired effect. They claim that coaches will be more conservative by not wanting to allow a goal, and will put out two defenseman and one forward, leading just as many games to head to a shootout.

Those fans and critics of 3-on-3 were wrong, though. Very wrong.

Big Change In The AHL

This year, Ken Holland’s idea finally gained enough support, and was implemented in its fullest capacity in the American Hockey League. The AHL’s new overtime has now been changed to seven minutes. Following a dry scrape of the ice, teams play three minutes of 4-on-4. Then if nobody scores during 4-on-4, it is followed by four minutes of 3-on-3.

The results have been more than eye-opening.

Last season in the AHL, 64.7 percent of contests ended in a shootout. Up to this point, there have been 33 games which have gone beyond regulation time. And how many of those games have made it all the way to a shootout?

Five.

No, that is not a typo. Only five games, or 15 percent of overtime games in the AHL this season have proceeded to the shootout, compared to last season’s 64.7 percent. If things continue on this path, the AHL is looking at an extraordinary full-season drop-off in the number of shootouts compared to 2013-14.

Additionally, of the 33 overtime tilts, 15 have been decided during 4-on-4, while 12 have been decided during 3-on-3.

Numbers don’t lie, and there is really no denying it. 3-on-3 has been very effective.

Time For Change

If the NHL were to adopt Ken Holland’s brain child, there would almost certainly be less shootouts, and more sudden death overtime goals. More games would finally be decided through actual hockey, and the shootout would became a more unique event, as it would become not so common to come by.

Here’s a glimpse of 3 on 3 action:

Nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned.

This season, the NHL finally took steps, albeit baby steps, towards cutting down on the number of games that are decided in shootouts. The AHL went big, and adopted Holland’s longer overtime, 3-on-3 idea, and it’s gone exactly as he imagined. More offense, more overtime goals, and less shootouts.

If the NHL is serious about bringing big change to overtime, it’s time to adopt 3-on-3. It’s working for the AHL, and it will work for the NHL too.

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