To figure out two things NHL general managers will be discussing at their annual March meeting, look no further than the controversial game the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings played in mid-January.
First, the Red Wings scored the tying goal after officials missed the puck hitting the protective netting, then the Kings wound up losing in a shootout. That could affect playoff positioning in the Eastern and Western Conferences, and that’s a concern for everyone.
No different than many fans, GMs hate to see a game end on an incorrect call and generally don’t like to see one end in a shootout. So it’s only natural that altering or extending overtime and expanding video review will be hot topics on the agenda for meetings Monday through Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla.
When it comes to overtime, the hope is to have fewer games even reach the shootout, which was instituted after the 2004-05 lockout as a way of eliminating ties. Since then, 13.3 per cent of all regular-season games have gone to one, and that’s seen as too much.
“I would prefer for our game to be decided by playing hockey instead of the skill part of the game, which is the shootout,” Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars said. “It’s really tough. You can play a great game, play a great overtime and then you go to a shootout and just because you lose a shootout it feels like you’ve lost the game — and you have, and it hurts because you played such a good game. I would rather lose a game by playing the game.”
Through Saturday, 121 of 962 games this season have gone to a shootout (12.57 per cent). Each team has participated in at least four, while the Washington Capitals lead the league with 15 of them through 64 games.
A handful of general managers said in recent weeks that there was an appetite to reduce the number of shootouts by making some changes to overtime. Detroit GM Ken Holland has long sought adding time or a three-on-three element to overtime, and it has come time that Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes figures more members of the group are “open-minded to reviewing it and discussing it.”
“In the past, it was generally touched on but deferred,” Maloney said. “And I think as you go on with the parity of the league, I think we all have to take a harder look.”
Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes usually sits near Holland at these meetings and is in favour of his proposals to change overtime. After plenty of talk over the years, perhaps more will get on board.
“I think we’re heading that way,” Rutherford said. “It’s been talked about a long time, this is not something new. I don’t know how many minutes it’ll end up being — the total minutes in overtime. That’s really where the big discussion will come. But I think the fact that this has been discussed for a few years now, I think it’s gaining some momentum going into this meeting.”
What that momentum will turn into remains to be seen. Rutherford and Holland would like five minutes of the already-established four-on-four followed by five minutes of three-on-three, while Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues voiced support for simply making four-on-four overtime longer.
But, as Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks knows, change in the NHL tends to go in “phases.” So it’s possible that the first change to overtime is a very subtle one: teams changing ends like they do in the second period so that there’s a longer way to go for players to get off the ice for line changes.
“I would be a hundred per cent in support,” Maloney said. “If you look at the second period and the (long) line changes how often mistakes are made, and bad line changes lead to rushes. All of a sudden you do that in overtime with four people and the tiredness of the game, I think that’s a natural evolution, myself. I think that’s the first step.”
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock brought that up in Sochi after seeing overtime in the women’s gold-medal game between Canada and the United States. Mistakes led to three penalties and then a power-play goal 8:10 into overtime.
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