It’s safe to say, after five days and 20 games, the 2010 post-season has been outstanding, isn't it? Not a single dud game in the bunch so far, all the first round series were tied 1-1 for the first time since the league expanded to 12 teams in 1967, almost half of them have gone into overtime and if you’ve PVRed the Detroit-Phoenix series you’d be forgiven if you double-checked that you weren’t playing the games on fast forward.
It doesn’t seem that long ago the playoffs were as much a battle of attrition for the fans as it was for the players. And we can all remember the days when viewers approached impending overtime with more of a sense of dread than excitement.
Yes, the NHL deserves credit for making the playoffs fun again. When it decided to open up the game after the lockout season, it was with the intention of making the game more watchable and it has hit a home run on that one. At the same time it was considering all the changes that have made the post-lockout game so entertaining, it came within a Rob Blake vote on the competition committee of going to 4-on-4 in overtime. (His vote was the deciding one and he decided against it.)
That would have been fine, too, but we can see now it also would have been unnecessary. Because when it comes to overtime now, hockey fans are getting a bountiful amount of a good thing as opposed to the pre-lockout days when it was getting way, way too much of a bad thing.
So far this playoff season, seven of the 20 games have gone into overtime and not a single one of the extra sessions has hit the 15-minute mark. The average overtime in this year’s playoffs is 5:43, with the longest being 13:19 and the shortest 31 seconds.
And the time spent playing overtime continues to be trending downward. Since the lockout, the league has had 76 playoff overtime games. A total of 16, or 21.1 percent, of those games have gone beyond one overtime period. From the period beginning with the 2000 playoffs through 2004, the league had 94 overtime games, 23 (or 24.5 percent) of which extended beyond 20 minutes of extra play.
Not a huge difference, right? But when you consider last season only had one game go past the first overtime, you can certainly spot a trend here. And in the five playoff seasons prior to the lockout, the average overtime was 15 minutes. Post-lockout, the average overtime has been 12.9 minutes.
Again, just more than two minutes might not sound like much, but I would contend that the almost 13 minutes spent watching overtime post-lockout goes a lot more quickly and has far more compelling play than the 15 minutes that was spent pre-lockout.
Now you actually see teams trading chances and taking gambles in overtime, using the absence of the red line to stretch out the ice for game-breaking types of plays. You see players out on the ice who can make a difference in the game being allowed to actually make a difference in the game. Compare that to pre-lockout, when the extra sessions were an exercise in drudgery unless you were a fan of the rodeo. In an effort to “allow the players to decide it,” the league was taking away scoring chance after scoring chance and viewers were either turning off the television and going to bed or waking up hours later to a Slap Chop infomercial with drool running down their faces. (All right, in those days the wonderful Slap Chop didn’t even exist or sell for the ridiculously low price of $19.95 plus shipping and handling, but you get my drift.)
Now the referees actually have the ability, with the league’s backing, to call penalties in overtime. There was a time in the NHL (and THN did a cover story on it years ago) when the league went more than a decade without calling a penalty in overtime and a player could commit anything short of murder and it went unpunished.
But that has all changed and the NHL should be commended for taking ownership of its game. If this is what overtime is going to look like in the future, by all means, leave it the way it is and keep it coming.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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