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A Case for Full Overtime In The NHL

Every NHL season, the discussion inevitably heads towards how the NHL handles and awards points for games tied after regulation. Currently, the NHL awards each team a single point if they are tied after regulation. The NHL also awards a bonus point to the team that is able to score in OT, or win the shootout.

There have been 2 major rule changes in the past 15 years. Prior to the 1999-2000 season, teams were awarded 2 points for a win or a single point for a game tied after 60 minutes of regulation and a 5 minute OT. Starting in 1999-2000, a single point was awarded for a regulation tie, which is when 2 teams tied after 60 minutes. An additional point was awarded to a team if they were able to score in the 5 minute OT.

The reason this rule was implemented was because of the changes to the way coaches coached the game in the infamous "Dead Puck Era". The NHL went from 21 teams in 1992 to 27 teams in 1999, which meant that instead of 76% of teams making the playoffs it was 59%. Points became even more valuable and coaches were coaching to keep guaranteed points and not push for more. What ended up happening was games became basically unwatchable in the last 10 minutes of the 3rd period in tie games. Further to that, OT often involved 2 teams playing dump and chase with no pressure in order to preserve their single point.

In an attempt to open up the game more (especially in OT), the NHL decided to award the tie after 60 minutes. That rule stayed in place until the 2005-2006 season when the NHL also adopted the shootout and got rid of tie games completely.

This most recent change has led to questions about whether the NHL should change their method of awarding points. There seems to be an issue with the fact that some games are worth 3 points and other games are worth 2.

Personally, if the NHL decides that the shootout is here to stay and won’t consider any alternatives, then I actually prefer the current system over alternatives like 3 points for a regulation win and 2 for an OT/SO win, 1 for an OT/SO loss and 0 for a regulation loss. Instead of arguing that, I’d rather focus on a different alternative: play until you win like you do in the playoffs.

The reason why this is ultimately the better system is because it takes the skill competition aspect out of awarding wins, much like the playoffs do.

One of the big arguments against this is that the Networks won’t want to deal with all sorts of double and triple OT games, or just games lasting longer in general.

Based on playoff results since the lockout, that may not actually be a problem. Since 2005-06, there have been 511 NHL playoff games. Out of those 511 games, 46 games took longer than 10 minutes of OT to decide a winner. 24 of those 511 games took more than 1 OT period to decide a winner. The average length of a playoff OT is 13:06.

Keep in mind, playoff overtime is 5 on 5 from start to finish. Regular season OT can be straight 4 on 4 from the beginning, or even play 5 on 5 for the first 10 minutes and then move to 4 on 4. This should eliminate a good portion of those games that last longer than 10 minutes. Another factor that could help reduce the length of OT is the quality of competition. In the playoffs, it is usually the best 13-16 teams in the NHL playing against each other and the competition only increases as the playoffs progress. During the regular season, the competition will be a lot more varied.

A final factor that may help is that playoff hockey is often a lot more live or die. In game 45 of the regular season in the midst of 3 games in 4 nights, a team may take more risks to try and end the game earlier on in OT or may press harder in the 3rd with a 1 goal lead.

Overall, the concern that there is going to be a plethora of long OT’s that run into the wee hours of morning that make the networks pull out their hair is much greater than what will most likely happen. In the end, the game in the regular season will more closely mirror the playoffs, which only makes sense.