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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bring Back Ties! by @BrianK_PI

So, the All-Star Game went exactly as planned, right? John Scott was the big surprise of the evening, having gone from butt of the joke to the last one laughing along the way to (deservedly) winning MVP honors and a Honda Pilot along with his share of the $1 million prize for leading the Pacific Division to the tournament victory. It was a deserved outcome for a player that has said and done all the right things in the face of the undeserved actions that created this situation - from the fans using Scott to protest the NHL's selection process to the league doing virtually everything in their power to force Scott to go away, including omitting his 2 goal effort from MVP consideration when releasing the finalists.

Perhaps equally surprising was that the All Star Game actually more closely resembled normal gameplay than the exhibitions of years past. The 3-on-3 format even produced a championship game with a 1-0 final score over 20 minutes of play. The extra ice opened things up for skilled players to make skilled plays, and it was for more exciting than the typical 60 minutes of All Star action. The NHL took the new overtime format and tweaked it into a successful event. The NHL should take that success as a springboard for making more change - eliminating the loser point, eliminating the shootout, and bringing back ties.

The loser point was originally instituted to keep teams from going into a shell in the overtime period and settling for a tie by giving them something to play for. The thought process was if the team gained one point regardless of how it finished the game, then teams would try harder to get a second point. The shootout, while added as a gimmick coming out of the lockout, ensured that one team would earn 2 points when reaching overtime. Unfortunatley, these moves had unintended consequences. Instead of playing in a shell in overtime, teams began to hold back at the end of the 3rd period to ensure that they could earn at least one point. Also, by awarding a loser point, the league made games worth different points in the standings - regular games worth 2 points, while OT games could be worth 3. The shootout ensured that every game that reached overtime would result in this point inequality instead of just those that saw a team score in the extra period. While it was believed at first that this would allow teams the ability to get back into the playoff races later in the season, it has had the opposite effect. Teams are now effectively eliminated from the playoffs earlier, at lower point differentials, because it's difficult to catch up in the standings when conference rivals can split three points instead of two.

What 3-on-3 OT has accomplished so far is to end games in the overtime period before reaching a shootout. It hasn't fixed all the league's problems, but it's been a start. So far this season 63.7% of overtime games have ended during the 3-on-3 period, up from 45.1% through this time last year. By removing a player from the ice, the NHL has created more scoring chances by forcing teams to have to play offense. Teams cannot sit back and wait out the other team making a mistake because they don't have the manpower to clog up the neutral zone and effectively collapse on the goalie and prevent good chances.

The All Star Game provided a great template for what overtime should look like in the NHL next season. A 10 minute, sudden death OT period would force even more games to end in overtime. The championship game showed that it's possible to go through an entire period without scoring, but assuming that the same percentage of games ended in the 5 minutes of OT this season (63.7%) would end in the second 5 minutes in this format would mean that 86.8% of games would end in OT. With a decreased ability to go into a shell and an increased difficulty in playing the extra period to a draw, the NHL could then remove the loser point from games, which in turn would eliminate much of the desire for teams to tighten up at the end of the 3rd period. This would also open up playoff races as teams outside of the playoff picture who are able to string together victories will see less resistance from the teams above them gaining artificially manufactured points. Given that there's no loser point, there's no reason for a shootout to determine who gets the extra point.

When the NHL first started tinkering with its overtime format, it was attempting to coerce teams to play hard to the final whistle, to continually try to win the game instead of prolonging the game. Teams have trapped and obstructed their way before the change, and they found out how to do so afterwards. Now that the league has shown the willingness to adopt and embrace a system as radical as 3-on-3 overtime, the true intent of those changes are starting to shine through. It's time to abandon the mistakes the loser point and the shootout have made and embrace ties as a means of solving the point inequality and injecting new life in the playoff races. Because in the end, playoff chases are more exciting than any one individual game, and a small portion of a minority of the games at that. It's time for the NHL to bring sense back to the standings and allow teams to play to a draw.

1 comment:

  1. There are few things that I disagree with more than this article. You have a valid point about the standings balance being thrown off but any solution is a better solution than ties. Ties are literally a waste of 60 minutes of action and every sport that has them should give every fan who witnesses a tie a full refund of their ticket price. Why not just award every team that qualifies for the playoffs their own individualized Stanley Cup trophy? No, because the nature of sports are that there will be a winner and there will be a loser. The best thing that the NHL ever did was get rid of ties (albeit shootouts are not the perfect solution) and if they were to ever come back I may stop watching altogether just out of principle


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