Buffalo Sabres News: NHL To Adopt New Overtime Format


NHL general managers are meeting this week in Florida, with one of the topics of discussion being overtime formats.

Ever since the NHL introduced shootouts several years ago, there have been mixed reactions. Some don’t mind the shootout, some hate it, some (few?) love it. It can really sting when a point lost in a shootout determines whether or not your team is making the playoffs, or when you’ve had an essentially perfect game, only to fall in a blasted shootout.

If the NHL’s overtime format does indeed change, this would likely result in much fewer shootouts, which could be a great thing for fans, players and the sport as a whole.

As it stands right now, the NHL’s overtime rules see teams play five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime before a three-man shootout is held. If nothing is resolved, the shootout then becomes sudden death.

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But one of the new formats, recommended by the general managers at this week’s meetings, would see teams play five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime before a shootout. The next step is for this format to go through the NHLPA. If the players’ association approves, then the new format can go into effect (not until next season, of course). This would be effective for the regular season, with playoff format to be determined.

The other option here would be for the NHL to follow the American Hockey League format, which sees teams play three minutes of 4-on-4 before four minutes of 3-on-3.

Either way, the underlying aim here is to lessen the number of games that require a shootout to be determined. This makes the shootout more special, and also makes games more exciting. After all, isn’t winning a game in overtime infinitely more exciting than winning in a shootout, when you can know exactly which player needs to score in order to seal a victory?

There’s nothing quite like sitting on the edge of your seat – whether in-arena or at home or in a bar – knowing that every second, the puck could go in the back of the net and the game could be over. Or not. You don’t get that same sense of exhilaration in a shootout. It just isn’t the same level of excitement.

This second option has been fairly successful in its first year of implementation in the AHL, and it could be just as successful at the NHL level, too.

(Note: all numbers in the rest of this article are accurate through March 16, 2015.)

Of 922 AHL games this season, 224 have been tied at the end of 60 minutes, requiring either a shootout or overtime to determine a winner. Of those 224, 76 percent (171) have been decided in the overtime period, with just 53 heading to a shootout.

How much does that 3-on-3 time help?

Well, take this into consideration. 67 of those 171 games decided in overtime have been won in the first three minutes of the extra period, when teams were playing 4-on-4.

Of the 157 games that weren’t solved through three minutes of 4-on-4 overtime, 104 were able to be resolved in the four minutes of 3-on-3 overtime. That’s 66 percent of games that were decided in the last four minutes of overtime and didn’t end up requiring a shootout to have a final winner.

These 3-on-3 overtimes ended up resulting in some exciting moments, including:

The new overtime format has already made a positive impact in the AHL, lessening the number of games that have required a shootout to be determined. 51 games have been decided in the last two minutes of the AHL’s overtime period this season, and the 3-on-3 format allows players to have more space overall on the ice. It really opens things up and ups the ante for the remainder of the game, and it’d be no different if the NHL adopted this format.

At this point, it seems almost certain that the NHL overtime format is going to change, possibly as early as next season.

Whether it’ll be five minutes of straight-up 3-on-3 or a combined, extended format of overtime like the AHL is yet to be determined, but either way, this is a great thing for the game of hockey.

Overtime is much more exciting and entertaining than a shootout, and opening the ice to a 3-on-3 format will allow players to have more space to work with. Just imagine what future Buffalo Sabres forward Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel will be able to do with more open ice in an overtime, with the game on the line.

In the end, it’s all about growing the game, and changing the overtime format will most certainly help that. It makes things more exciting, gives players a better opportunity to make moves with more space on the ice, and will help attract more fans to the game. Either overtime format option will take some time to adjust for players and fans alike (though fans who watch the AHL may adjust easier), but it’ll really open the game up.

My opinion: go for the AHL format. Extended overtime, with the three minutes of 4-on-4 followed by four minutes of 3-on-3. It’s an easier transition than jumping to five minutes of 3-on-3, but still opens the ice up considerably and immediately shaves down the number of shootouts required. I can dig it.

So — let’s hear your input, folks. What overtime format do you hope to see the NHL adopt? Will you be mourning the lessening of the shootout, or are you ready to show it the door? Do you think having more games end in an overtime would help, or hurt, the Buffalo Sabres?

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