Skip to main content

Throwback Thursday: When the NHL searched for a way to break ties

Back in 1998, the NHL was looking for ways to decrease the number of tied games and they were so opposed to the idea of shootouts they proposed 2-on-2 or 1-on-1 overtime.

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we comb the THN archives to bring you something from our past. This week, a look back at a problem that was plaguing the NHL in 1998 -- too many ties.

What's most interesting about this story is some of the ideas of how to fix the tie problem, and the apparent reluctance of going to a shootout. Check out the very last item in this story to see what the league proposed instead of shootouts.

'Tie die: How to kill deadly draws'

November 20, 1998 -- Vol. 52, No. 11

By Bob McKenzie

The goal-starved NHL is now fit to be tied.

Regular season overtime is clearly not working. Only one of 23 overtime games (through the first 148 games of this season) was settled in the extra five minute period. The number of ties -- there was an NHL record 219 last season -- has been on a steady upward swing in the 1990s.

“It’s an issue we have to look at,” NHL senior vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell told THN after a one-day GMs’ meeting Nov. 3 in New York. “There are definitely trends to watch here. We’re going to have to do something about it."

It’s an issue commissioner Gary Bettman voiced concern about as far back as last February’s GMs’ meeting. The situation has only gotten worse and Bettman’s concerns are now shared by many. That means when the GMs next meet in February, in La Quinta, Calif., it is likely to be addressed.

For the record, the concept of a tie-breaking Olympic-style shootout was never even mentioned at the GMs’ meeting in New York. It is not, at this time anyway, being considered as a potential solution.

But completely eliminating regulation season overtime is.

“If we conclude it’s not working,” Campbell said, “what’s the sense of keeping everyone around for another 10 minutes? But we’ll study it and look at all our options before we make any decisions.”

It wasn’t always like this. When former Quebec Nordiques’ owner Marcel Aubut championed the OT cause, introduced in 1983-84 there were positive results. In that first year, 54 of 140 regulation-time ties were settled (38.6 per cent).

But that was then. This is now and the 1998-99 numbers are embarrassing. Who would have thought there would be as many penalty-shot goals (one, by St. Louis Blues’ left winger Geoff Courtnall) as there were overtime winners (one, by Los Angeles Kings’ left winger Luc Robitaille)?

“With the parity the way it is,” Campbell said, “both teams are going into OT just looking for the one point. Even the home team would rather get one point than risk losing two by opening it up and going for it.”

The league has a few options:

Eliminate OT: That would do nothing to decrease ties -- teams may well go into tie-protecting shell earlier in regulation time -- but it would get everyone home sooner.

Keep OT, but revamp the points system: That is, award each team one point for regulation-time tie and award a second point to the team that wins in OT. The theory is that with one point in the bank, both teams would open it up to get the second point.

Theatrics: The crowd-pleasing shootout falls into this category, although the only notion discussed at the GMs’ meeting was playing a series of one-minute shifts 5-on-5, 4-on-4, 3-on-3, 2-on-2, and 1-on-1. It’s generally favored over the shootout because it retains elements of the game such as strategy, hitting and legitimate competition. It’s just a notion at this point though.


The Hockey News -- November 20, 1998


Mark Giordano

Giordano's Impact Not Ignored by Maple Leafs

Giordano isn’t at the peak he was at when he won the James Norris Trophy in 2019, but his importance to Toronto's blueline – aided by a very cap-friendly deal – is notable for a variety of reasons.

2022 IIHF World Championship

Men's World Championship Roundup: GB, Italy Relegated; Denmark Wins Major Upset

Italy and Great Britain have been relegated from the men's World Hockey Championship, while Denmark pulled off a historic upset over Canada and Czechia shut out USA with one day remaining in round-robin play.


The Lightning are Beating the Panthers at their Own Game

The Florida Panthers won a Presidents' Trophy thanks to their offensive depth. Now, the Tampa Bay Lightning have turned it against them at the worst possible time.