Changes to NHL Overtime Format?

Published by Mark on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 — View Comments

PITTSBURGH - MAY 28:  General Manager Ken Holl...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

How can you not respect a man like Ken Holland? I mean, I don’t know him personally. But, his achievements at the management level in the NHL, his hockey knowledge, the man is legendary, without question. And frankly, whenever I have heard him speak on radio or seen him do television interviews, I am always impressed.

Pierre Lebrun wrote on his ESPN blog, and spoke during this weekend’s Hot Stove on HNIC about Ken Holland’s proposal which he intends to revisit concerning the structure of the NHL regular season overtime. These changes would include expanding the period from 5 to 8 minutes. Further, where currently the overtime is played 4-on-4, the new format would see the first 4 minutes played 4-on-4, the next 4 minutes played 3-on-3. If the game remained tied, then the shootout would take place.

I have posted previously my dislike for the shootout. I think it is a gimmicky sideshow, a display of individual versus individual, and a poor way to decide a team game that has been played as a team game for 65 minutes. The penalty shot, or breakaway, is only one small part of the game. And, as Lebrun writes, too many games have been decided by shootout recently.

But with all due respect, I see this proposal as no better. I for one do not particularly like the 4-on-4 overtime. Sure it’s hockey, and the game has evolved over the decades. And at the highest pro level, the NHL essentially sets the rules in terms of what rules make hockey what it is. But 4-on-4 is not the ‘normal’ way the game is played. What if baseball decided that a game going longer than 10 innings means there will be no center fielder, longer than 11 innings and we’ll remove the shortstop?

From year to year, the NHL gets into this mode solving this imagined issue that games are not ending with a goal during regulation. It’s an issue they’ve been chasing since the mid 1980s, and no one seems to see that each move to fix it results in further moves to fix it better. It began with adding a 5 minute overtime, and people thought teams were playing too safe, trying not to lose the point for the tie. So, they allowed a team reaching overtime to keep the point, hoping teams would compete for the extra point. Trouble is, 5 minutes of hockey can easily go scoreless. So they opened it up to 4-on-4 to try to force offense, and then eliminated the tie by mandating the game end in a shootout if overtime did not decide it. And now, apparently there are too many shootouts.

When will the powers that be in the NHL realize that in an era of parity, enforced by salary caps and draft structure, means that teams will often be evenly matched?

The NHL should return to the idea that wins, losses and ties are acceptable ‘results’ to a game. Nothing has been solved by this new format where some games result in 2 points awarded while others have 3 points awarded. Gimmicks such as the shootout, sold by the brass as “the most exciting play in hockey”, soon grow tiresome when you see them night after night. I dare say the same will be said of 3-on-3 in the long run.

Constant tinkering and this idea that a full 60 or 65 or 70 minutes, played at 5-on-5 (for the most part) does not give the desired result only causes people to question the value of the game itself. And the NHL has enough trouble gaining new fans as it is.