Shootouts: Some hate them, others love them. But in recent seasons -- with well over half the games that go beyond regulation also going to the skills competition -- GMs started lamenting that too few contests were decided by actually playing hockey.
It’s been four years since Red Wings GM Ken Holland first proposed a longer overtime, one that would add a short 3-on-3 session if no one scored in the 4-on-4 OT. But he’s never been able to muster enough support among his fellow GMs for that change.
This season, however, NHL GMs did tweak overtime to try getting more results before going to the shootout. We’ve now seen one month of what they approved -- the dry scrape after 60 minutes and the teams switching ends. The theory was that smoother ice and the longer distance to the players’ bench would result in more goals during the five minutes of 4-on-4.
It’s a small sample size, but how has it gone?
Through Monday -- the first 170 games of the season -- 45 contests have gone beyond regulation, and of those, 25 kept going to the shootout, 55.5 percent.
During the same number of games last season, shootouts ballooned with 24 of 37 games going to penalty shots, which is almost 65 percent. Things leveled off over the full season, with 178 of the 307 tied games going to the shootout, 60 percent.
In the same period of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, overtime decided 18 of the first 40 games that went past regulation, meaning 55 percent went to the shootout. And in that truncated campaign, 97 of the 162 ties went past overtime, again 60 percent.
So, perhaps the new OT tweaks may have helped a bit, there’s no major change here, at least not yet. But let’s look at the American League, where many members of the competition committee are also NHL assistant GMs and where potential NHL rules are often road tested.
After last year -- when 178, or 64.7 percent, of the 275 AHL’s tie games went to a shootout – the league adopted a new OT format. Starting this season, tied AHL games are followed by a dry scrape, then three minutes of 4-on-4 and then, if no one scores, four minutes of 3-on-3.
"We are encouraged by the response from our fans and our teams to the new OT format,” said David Andrews, AHL president and CEO. “The format has provided for very exciting hockey for our fans and has so far effectively reduced the percentage of our games being decided by the shootout."
Effectively reduced is an understatement. Through the 138 AHL games played through last Sunday, Nov. 2, 30 contests went beyond regulation and only five – yes, FIVE -- have gone to a shootout. That’s merely 16.7 percent, a stunningly drastic decrease.
Of the 25 decided within the extra seven minutes of hockey, 13 ended during the 4-on-4 session while 12 concluded during 3-on-3 hockey (and those numbers include OT power play goals; when a penalty occurs during 3-on-3, the teams don’t play 3-on-2, but bump it back up to 4-on-3).
After his first experience playing 3-on-3, Binghamton Senators captain Aaron Johnson said, “It's definitely fatiguing but it's exciting."
At last, Ken Holland’s idea is alive and well – at least in the AHL. You have to think those who believe the NHL would have a better game with fewer shootouts are paying close attention.