Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Evaluating The Overtime

After watching the Rangers lose in a shootout to the Islanders last night I got to thinking about how awful it was for a game to be decided in the skill competition. While a fellow Ranger fan pointed out to me that the sloppy play by both teams showed how ties should still be allowed as neither team played well enough to win. But this is not a debate as to whether or not there should be shootouts, but rather is the value of overtime has lessened.

By my math, an astounding 125 out of the 217 extra-time games (as of the games finished on March 4th) have been decided in shootouts. The Edmonton Oilers won 14 of the 17 shootouts they participated in. Having seen a few of their games, after a minute or so into the overtime, they start playing not to lose rather than to win since they have a better chance coming out on top in the one-on-one competition rather than the four-on-four overtime.

And they aren't the only team. The Rangers are one of them as well. Disagree? Then how can you explain them putting slower skaters out on the ice *cough, cough, Marek Malik, cough* when there is more room to skate? Ryan Callahan, the fastest Ranger in yesterday's loss, was relegated to the bench (as was the red hot Nigel Dawes) for the slower - yet more responsible - Brendan Shanahan.

The league initially made overtime 4-on-4 to increase scoring with more room. That clearly is not happening as 58% of games that go beyond regulation remain even. Shootouts are certainly a fan-friendly device to decide games but the brass tacks of it is that hockey becomes an individual sport, which it is not. The shootout certainly isn't going to go away, so what is the solution?

Rather than turning to the idea of 3-on-3 play, how about a change to the offside rules? The league could make it a carry-over offsides where a player can already be in the offensive zone as long as the puck is carried over the blueline or can get rid of the blue line entirely. Do these sound familiar? They should, at least for folks who play(ed) roller hockey. There was a lot more scoring in Roller Hockey International and that wasn't necessarily a symptom of lesser-quality players. Having lax offsides rules opens up the ice surface even farther and allows longer home run passes and even cherry picking. The latter has some negative connotations but shouldn't.

Say a team wants to send one of their guys to camp out at the far crease. If the other team leaves a defender there, then its a 3-on-3 situation in the zone. If they leave the player alone with the goaltender, then its a 4-on-3 in deep. Say the three are able to get the puck out, then the goaltender can try to come out of his crease to challenge the goal hanger or stop the home run pass, which increases the odds of a good scoring chance even farther.

If the five minute extra period still doesn't produce a winner, then you can still have the skill competition declare a winner, but I would rather see games ended based on team play rather than individual. And by changing up the offsides, that increases those odds.

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