If there's one thing that's been a bit surprising about the start of the 2014-15 NHL season, it's the proliferation of shootouts deciding games. Thankfully for everyone, the American Hockey League has the solution we've been waiting for.
This season, the AHL changed its overtime rules. Rather than playing 4-on-4 for five minutes and then going to a shootout if no one scored, the league plays a seven-minute overtime. The first three minutes are played 4-on-4 and the final four minutes are played 3-on-3. If no one scores after that, then it goes to the shootout.
During the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, NBC put up a graphic showing how the AHL's overtime changes have worked to help reduce the number of games that end in the skills competition.
Just over half of the NHL games that have made it to overtime have gone all the way to the shootout, which fans love to hate or hate to love. The one thing that's clear is NHL general managers hate missing out on the playoffs because they didn't have a guy who could deke out a goalie during a game in mid-November.
The AHL numbers look almost like an oasis in an icy tundra filled with bland shots. The league hasn't played as many games, and yes, we know it's a small sample size, but seeing that only four out of 22 overtime games went to the shootout brings a tear to your eye. Seeing 12 of 22 games were won in 3-on-3 mode makes us jealous we can't see this happen in the NHL.
Just look at how exciting 3-on-3 hockey can be at the NHL level. We got two minutes of it in a game between Los Angeles and New Jersey in 2013, and in those two minutes we saw six scoring chances.
It probably makes Red Wings GM Ken Holland, the mad man behind this overtime plan, mad that it isn't already implemented in the NHL. Holland has pushed for years to see changes made to overtime to help reduce the effect of the shootout. As it is, regulation/overtime wins are the first tie-breaker for the playoffs, proof that the shootout is reviled.
Naysayers will come out to say coaches will figure out 3-on-3 OT and the shootouts will increase. That's possible. It's also possible teams will see all that open ice and decide it's time to damn the torpedoes and just go for it, or wind up caught in a change and get caught in an accidental 3-on-1 that ends the game.
We know NHL commissioner Gary Bettman loves the shootout and defends it as wildly popular. That's fine. But we know teams despise losing games this way, and finding any means to make that possible that doesn't turn the game into a total circus should be looked into.
Now that we're seeing positive results in the AHL, it's time to make the push for change next season.