Mr. (Ken) Holland’s latest opus will be brought to the attention of his fellow NHL general managers at their semi-annual meetings, which begin in hockey country – sunny Boca Raton, Fla. – on Monday.
Holland, the architect behind the most successful NHL team of the past two decades, the Detroit Red Wings, will pitch a new/old concept that would see overtime periods extended to 10 minutes from five.
The twist? The second five-minute period would be played 3-on-3, in the hope games would be decided in a more conventional hockey environment, rather than in a shootout.
Holland’s thinking is that playing 3-on-3 would open up the ice so much that a goal would almost certainly be scored. On the rare occasions it didn’t happen, the shootout would be the last-resort tiebreaker.
Shootouts might eventually become as rare as ties in the NFL – something theoretically achievable, but in practice almost never happens. Through Thursday, 13.54 per cent of NHL games were decided in shootouts this year, the second-highest total since the league introduced the format in 2005-06.
If successful, the measure would further devalue the shootout in the NHL standings – which can only be a good thing to all the purists and old fogeys out there. The GMs made a similar, but far-less radical shift a couple of years back, when revamping the criteria for playoff qualification.
It used to be the first tie-breaker for teams tied in the standings at the end of the regular season was total wins. Holland, and a handful of like-minded peers, convinced the league that only regulation and overtime wins should count for such an important matter – and no one should slip into the playoffs because of an ability to win games on penalty shots.
Once upon a time, Holland was also in favour of revamping the NHL points system, so regulation victories would be worth three; overtime or shootout victories would earn two; overtime and shootout losses would be rewarded with a single point; and regulation losses count for zero.
However, Holland’s thinking has shifted there, he says, because of the closeness of the playoff races.
“I was a big believer that we should go to the three-point game three or four years ago,” the Wings GM said. “I’m not a fan any more. What do you want? More separation? Less races?
“In the [Western Conference] you could maybe say there are two teams out of it, but from [No.]13 on, they have a chance. I mean, we’re sitting here in early March and realistically, 28 teams can say, if they win nine out of 10, they would make the playoffs,” he said.
“I like it the way it is. If you look at the West, Vancouver, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, you’ve got four teams at the top, all within about six points. You’ve got about five teams at the eight-hole, between seventh and 11th, within four or five points. What more do you want? It’s stretch run time. We’re all rounding the bend and it’s a horse race. I think the races are incredible. So I’m not a fan. I was a fan. I’m not a fan any more.”
Still, there is something a little nonsensical about a standings system in which some games are worth three points and others just two. That creates a scenario which is mathematically improbable: a false .500 that makes it look as if 23 out of 30 NHL teams have winning records. And even though Holland understands that is not a rational system exactly, he thinks the ends justify the means.
“I agree … from the mathematical point of view,” he said, “but last year, on the final day of the season, we beat Chicago in the afternoon and Dallas lost to Minnesota [to decide the last playoff spot] In the East, Carolina lost their last game. If they win, they get in. Two or three years ago, Philadelphia and the Rangers had a shootout to decide a playoff spot. Why do you want separation?
“History shows there are great races right until the last weekend. Why would we change that – and run the risk of losing that intrigue?”