Tie Games, 3-on-3 Overtime, Shootouts and Some Overtime Options to Consider

TJ Oshie Washington Capitals
Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

opinion If you’ve ever watched the Mighty Ducks movies, you’ll know that Julie “the Cat” Gaffney has some seriously hot takes on tied games. The NHL clearly took that to heart when devising its current overtime system.

Originally, after a 5 minute overtime period with 5-on-5 hockey, the game was declared a tie and the teams split the 2 points available. But since the 2005-2006 season, shootouts and reducing the number of players during the period have entered the fray in a vicious attempt to completely eliminate ties. Last year, the NHL instituted the 3-on-3 overtime with that goal in mind. Originally, it worked, but eventually teams adapted and more games went to the gimmick.

Last season the Capitals had 7 OT wins, 6 OT losses, 4 SO wins and 2 SO losses. Enjoy the video below where Ovi scored the winning goal in 3-on-3 OT against Carolina, which not only won the game but also clinched a Capitals playoff berth – the league’s first.

There are a few thoughts I have on overtime and how the NHL could make it better:

  • The loser gets nothing points-wise.

To start, the math for the current over time period makes no sense. By going to overtime, a team automatically puts another point in play. It doesn’t take a math genius to know that having 3 points available versus 2 points seems weird. FiveThirtyEight has accurately dubbed this strategy “the loser point”. Now, if a win in regulation were 3 points, this could be solved without a hitch and everyone could have their cake and eat it too.

But this is, as the guys at Freakonomics would say, all about incentives. If the NHL doesn’t want teams to tie, then the incentives to win the period pre-shootout or without it should be higher. By eliminating the loser point and making it so that a loss is a loss, teams will be forced to play the overtime period seriously, whether it be 5-on-5 or 3-on-3. This would give new meaning to Ricky Bobby’s “if you ain’t first, you’re last” perspective.

  • Play the shootout before the overtime period.

Slate’s Dario Perkins gets full credit for masterfully applying this concept to professional soccer since most teams wait until penalty kicks to decide extra time matches. Perkins states that teams shoot before the 30 minute extra time period. If the game remains tied after the 30 minutes, the team who won the penalty kick round wins. If either team scores during the 30 minute extra time, that trumps the penalty kicks. It’s a bit complicated, but there isn’t a reason it couldn’t work in the NHL.

Because soccer is the only other sport that doesn’t play full periods until the end of the game, this is an avenue the NHL could explore. Remember, if the goal is to shift focus off the shootout, the NHL needs to create the incentive that the overtime period is worth playing. This achieves that goal by forcing the trailing and winning teams to make a concerted effort in the extra 5 minutes.

  • Play the game until someone scores and dump the shootout.

One of the biggest complaints about the 3-on-3 overtime, or any overtime for that matter, is that teams are coached so conservatively that getting to the shootout is inevitable. If the NHL implemented this rule, coaches can’t afford to use this tactic because it would lose them games. Overtime playoff hockey is everything regular season overtime isn’t: an all-out, thrilling, nail biting trading of chances until the puck goes in. Every other major sports league plays until another team scores in overtime. Why not have it in the NHL?

While I’m sure this could be a CBA lawsuit waiting to happen, the incentives to win early are so high that this would eliminate games going longer and the shootout could disappear. If a team has a cross country flight the next day for a game, they need to end the game early. If a team has players with nagging injuries and needs to find a way to give them time to heal, they need to end the game early. If a team doesn’t want players to get so fatigued that they get injured, they need to end the game early. More often than not, I’d bet these games wouldn’t get passed the 20 minute period.

  • Just have ties and stop whining!

The NHL is an entertainment league, and its goal is to make money, whether we like it or not. The shootout and 3-on-3 overtimes make for scintillating television, and let’s be frank, ties aren’t sexy. But they are pragmatic. At what cost does absolutism for winning become too complicated to deal with? Having ties makes the current 2 point system work, it’s the least complicated approach, and everyone can stop grumbling about the fact that no one tries in the 5 minute period and that shootouts place inordinate pressure on goaltenders. Everyone wins, despite Julie “the Cat” stating otherwise, even though we may not agree with it.

Until the Board of Governors meeting, we’ll just have to wait it out to see what knew rule changes will apply this season.

By Julia Karron

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