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Three easy (?) changes to make hockey better

We’ve just come through another summer round of self-examination when it comes to possible rule adjustments in the National Hockey League. More than mere self-absorbed naval-gazing, there is not much doubt that this was another sincere effort to make the game we all love even better.

With regards to useful rule changes: I’m among the growing legion of those who want the league to implement no touch icing—yesterday. No more analysis, just do it. It will help more players last longer—and stay healthy.

The other thing that I’ve also written about in the past is the size of equipment used these days. Surely we don’t need shoulder pads and elbow pads like we have. I’m no expert on concussions, but that can’t help.  The size of the players and the speed of the game won't change, but equipment can be changed.

The one other thing I would dearly love to see changed puts me in a distinct minority, I’m afraid. That is, I would get rid of regular-season overtime and therefore shootouts, tomorrow. No more discussion on that either. Just end it. Its time has passed, at least for me.

But more than that, and I know I really lose people here, I have no problems with ties. I don’t think it’s that I’m just an old guy who refuses to embrace “change”. I’ve seen the change and don’t like it. I preferred the old days on this one.

I’ll try to explain.

A good hockey game is a good hockey game. A bad hockey game is a bad hockey game. If two teams, during the long, sometimes tedious regular season, play a game and it ends 3-3, I can accept that. I did for the first almost 40 years or whatever it was that I was a fan, and it worked for me. That’s what each team deserved—a tie. One point each. Hop on the plane and go to your next game. You got what you earned for a full 60 minutes of play.

These days we decide things based on artificially-imposed regulations. Overtime is five minutes, not more, not less. It has to be four-on-four. Someone (for reasons I don’t understand) has to get two points, even if it’s only because they scored a goal in the artificially added extra time. Worse, games often go to a shootout, and then we give an extra point based on a one-on-one competition.

I just don’t like it.

I realize other sports have their own peculiarities. Baseball can go forever to avoid a "tie" and I have no problem with that. But it’s always been a sport where the standings are based on percentages and games ahead/games behind. I have no problem with baseball needing a winner. And besides, let’s not kid ourselves—it’s baseball. It’s a pastoral, leisurely game compared with hockey and football. For what they are paid, they should play 12 innings every night- if they could ever find more guys who can pitch.

In football, one of the great travesties for me is the way college football in the U.S. ends games. What is that peculiar rule in overtime? Both teams get the ball on the 35 year line? C’mon. To me, that makes no sense at all. None. And that’s how national championships can be decided. What’s wrong with a tie if that’s where two teams end up after 60 minutes of football?

One of the greatest NCAA games I ever saw was Notre Dame and Michigan State playing to a 10-10 tie back in 1966. That particular regular season game basically meant first place in the national rankings. Notre Dame was criticized for “running out the clock” at the end of the game.  (They were on the road, their first-string quarterback was hurt and they had come from behind from a 10-0 deficit. I wouldn’t have taken any big risks late in that game, either.)

But the NFL is no better. How can you decide a playoff game basically by the flip of a coin? Especially when one team may not even get a chance to get their offense on the field? Guys nowadays can kick 60 year field goals. You barely have to move the ball to be in a position to close out the game before the other team even gets to run a play.

Basketball has overtime, but it should, since the first 46 minutes are usually unwatchable and meaningless, anyway. Fans pay a lot of money for two minutes of meaningful play (which, by the way, takes way, way too long.  They have to get rid of some of those late-game time-outs).

For me, the answer in hockey is not to go the soccer route and making a win worth three points. Soccer had to do that because in much of the world it had the reputation of being a boring sport where no one ever scored. There were too many 0-0 games and lesser teams were literally playing for the tie.

Hockey has adjusted rules over the past few years to open up the game and make sure it didn’t stay stuck in the New Jersey Devil approach to defensive play which was not helping the flow of the game—or the popularity of the sport overall.

So I’m back where I started. If two teams play hard all night and tie 2-2, go home. Each team gets one point.

(And to me, we don’t need to be even more gimmicky approaches. Many are suggesting that after the four-on-four, we go to three-on-three. Again, we all have our own opinions, but I just don’t see the point. Hockey is built primarily around a five-on-five game. Games should largely be decided that way.)

If we went back to the old "a tie is OK format" then penalty shots during a game would be a true treat again—a hockey rarity. A one-hundred point season would mean something.  Standings would make sense for the first time in years. (You wouldn’t have to use your fingers and toes to determine hoe many legitimate wins there were, versus how many in OT or in a shootout.) Teams wouldn’t have to consider having guys on their roster primarily because they can score in a shootout.

No more regular-season overtime. No more shootouts.

Works for me.
Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Blog


  1. I agree 100%, like you I have been watching hockey for a long time (about 40 years) and I saw nothing wrong with a tie.

    And I hate the justification that "the fans don't pay good money to see a tie", bullshit. The fans don't want to see their team lose. I would rather have a tie than see my team lose in ot or a shootout.

    But what annoys me just as much is the sympathy point. It was added because when OT was first instituted teams were still playing for the tie and giving both teams the point ensured they would play hard in the OT.

    Well now that they have the shootout and there is no possibility of a tie, why do we need the sympathy point? Doesn't matter if you play for the tie you are still going to a shootout.

    Bring back the tie game. Now.

  2. I agree, bring back the tie. I don't mind a 5-minute overtime, even 4-on-4, but no shoot-outs. No 3-point games. I doubt they'll ever do it, but I'd love to see the NHL get rid of the shoot-out and bring back the tie.

  3. I agree that overtime is ok., but the loser should get 0 points and the winner 2. That way teams won't play for a tie. Shootout wins just give bad teams meaningless points in the standings and an illusion of parity in the league.

  4. I really like the thinking about having to play for the points. The `zero points for both teams` might have unintended consequences for game excitement. The team trying to `catch up` fails to keep trying because there`s no incentive (except to keep your opponent from getting a point, therefore apathy possibilities between non-conference opponents).

    Here's a tweak... give the team that's behind the incentive to keep trying by awarding a point to the team that 'caught up' to the other team (and no point for the team that had the lead when they were caught)... Then, the only way for the former leader to get a point is to keep the pedal to the metal (staying ahead or regaining the lead)... no points for the team that lost the lead... no more points for 'holding the lead'.

    The team with the lead will play to keep the lead... the trailer will play to catch up (or take the lead)... way more exciting than shootouts - don't you think?!

    SRR in AB

  5. Hi SRR,

    Innovative concept- maybe too much so for the NHL!

    I guess I'm still stuck in the view that if two teams tie, they just each get the point and go home.

    Your idea would certainly be very punitive for a team that gave up a late goal, but that's why hockey has these summertime experiments, to see if people can come up with a better idea than what we presently try.

  6. I never minded the tie because we grew up with it. But I do like the idea of OT. However, the way the league now has it is simply a marketing move. I prefer the original OT format - a 10-minute period. If you want to try to force a winner, go ahead and make it 4-on-4. It's difficult to be defensive for 10 full minutes.

    But when the time is done, that's it. We all go home and be satisfied with the point. It was ESPN and others that hounded the NHL to change the format. It was done strictly for marketing purposes. Like most things done that way, the big picture ... and whether it is actually good for the game ... was never considered.

    Shootouts are fine for kids. But it has bastardized the NHL. Alas, once it happens, it is virtually impossible to go back.