I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of watching NHL games end in shootouts. And I think there is a simple solution.
Delete the lines in extension. Make it pond hockey. No icing. No offside. Just 3 on 3 hockey on a large open sheet of ice.
Teams understood 3-on-3 overtime. Puck management became key. Players will routinely cling to the puck and return to the neutral zone if a scoring chance does not present itself.
There is a premium on line tips rather than time in zone. And since line rushes usually start in the defensive or neutral zone, they take time to develop. The players have developed patience. They are willing to wait for a good opportunity rather than forcing it.
While there are still occasions when the game opens up and teams trade scoring chances at a breakneck pace, this is happening less and less often. And to me, that means overtime has become somewhat commonplace compared to the early years of 3v3.
Five minutes of overtime doesn’t seem like enough. And I think the overwhelming majority of players, coaches and fans would rather see games end on the ice with a hockey game, not a skills competition like the shootout.
My solution is by no means revolutionary. I’d actually be surprised if someone didn’t talk about it among NHL general managers. But I think it’s worth trying.
There is precedent for the introduction of this type of rule change. The American Hockey League has long been an incubator of ideas.
Hybrid icing is a prime example. During the 2012–13 NHL lockout, the AHL implemented the rule as a way to mitigate the risk of injury. It proved successful, and the NHL followed suit by adopting hybrid icing for the 2013–14 season. The positive feedback from the miners was enough to convince the NHL that it was the right thing to do.
It should be noted that the AHL operates independently. But the NHL attracts a lot of favors. Fundamentally; whatever the NHL wants, the NHL gets when it comes to the AHL’s on-ice product.
But give credit to the AHL: the list of rules first put in place by the league and then adopted by the NHL is very long. And only some have been tested at the request of the NHL. The AHL was the first to introduce 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 overtime. The shootout. The puck-over-the-glass rule results in a minor penalty for delay of play. Move the face-off to the offensive zone on the power play. No line change after icing. Mandatory face protection. The goalkeeper’s trapeze. And more.
So why not spend a year or two seeing what happens if lines are taken down for overtime? I don’t see any downside. Let the AHL lead the experiment. The league has a history of innovation and has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to adapt quickly.
I know there are purists who would hate the idea. They would claim that removing the lines would desecrate the sacred game of hockey. It would be a gimmick.
Well guess what? Get over time. The NHL is already playing 3-on-3 hockey in overtime, with a shootout to follow. The tradition is long gone.
I stand by my previous argument that most would prefer to see the game end with a live game. And I think by removing the blue, red and goal lines, teams would come up with some creative strategies.
Imagine if a team could place a player at the other end of the ice, waiting to receive a long pass from a teammate in the defensive zone. As a former goalkeeper, I can’t tell you how nervous that would make me. The player would have so much time with the puck directly in front of the net.
However, the part that I have just described is not without risk. Teams would essentially play shorthanded, 2-on-3 in the defensive zone. And that’s a big bet.
But I think removing the lines would distribute the players across the surface of the ice. And realistically, even at 3-on-3 in the offensive zone, the ice is crowded in front of the net.
We have to let the NHL players show their talent. And the best way to do that is to create time and space. The ice is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. Still, it’s divided into areas that inherently bring players together. Why thwart offensive prowess just because of tradition?
There was talk of adding minutes to overtime. I don’t like it from the player’s point of view. Injuries are a real concern when the minutes increase. And I suspect the extra frame would get longer as teams waited for the perfect opportunity to get into the offensive zone quickly.
Remove the linesman from the ice after 60 minutes, but leave the referees there. Penalties will always happen and they must be called. But I do believe that a hands-off approach to overtime would be incredibly exciting.
Pond hockey is the answer. Drop the puck and let them play.
Recently by Mike McKenna