Coming out of the lockout the NHL made changes to the points system and added a shootout at the end of the overtime period in order to eliminate ties. While I generally applauded the moves at the time, it has become obvious that further tweaks need to be made. I propose a number of structural changes, most of which have been mentioned in hockey circles for some time now, designed to cut down on conservative play and minimize the number of games ending in a shootout. Together the proposed changes outlined below would create a sweeping overhaul of the current system. This overhaul is designed to increase the enjoyment of regular season hockey for NHL fans while minimizing any attempt to take away the team aspect of the sport.
The first change I proffer is to have only the game winners receive points no matter when the game is decided. This would make every game a two point game. This would hopefully discourage teams from playing for the OT instead of playing for the win in the last period of regular season games. Currently teams receive at least one point for getting into OT. Thus teams are playing conservative late in regulation, especially late in the season when playoff positioning comes into focus. Hawerchuck from Behind the Net put up a post on this subject several weeks ago. By teams no longer receiving at least one point if they make it into OT, my belief is that teams would try harder late in games which would make for an entertaining product.
In addition, I propose making a number of changes to the Overtime period. I would take ideas from the NHL RDO development camp held this past August and implement them in a manner that would hopefully maximize the number of games ending prior to a shootout. Teams should be forced to switch goals to necessitate a longer line change during the Overtime period. This would theoretically increase the amount of scoring chances due to the likelihood of players getting trapped on the ice in their own zone. Former NHL head coach Ken Hitchcock, who helped run the NHL RDO camp, is a proponent of such a change.
Another improvement to the Overtime period would be to increase it from five minutes to seven minutes. In addition, the Overtime would be broken up into two parts; a 4 on 4 session lasting four minutes and a 3 on 3 session lasting three minutes. The choice for time increments is purposeful. This would allow for casual fans to match the number of players on the ice with the number of minutes for each session. Adding a 3 on 3 session would likely open up the ice further and create more odd man breaks. If after the Overtime period the game has still not been decided, a shootout would take place.
While the numbers of games ending in a shootout are down this season, as of February 7th, 11.4% of games in the 2010-11 season ended in a shootout compared to 15% of game last season according to NHLShootouts, there are still too many games ending in shootouts for my taste. I'd prefer to see the number under 5%. Along with many other hockey fans, I believe shootouts turn hockey games involving them from a team competition into an individual skills contest. The shootout I suggest would be similar to the current format but with two amendments. First, the minimum number of shooters would increase from three to five. Second, the shooters would be required to be comprised of three forwards and two defensemen. This way the normal compliment of players would be involved in the outcome of a shootout. Coaches would be free to put the players in any order they wish just like they are allowed to currently. If the game is still tied after all five skaters for both teams have gone, then the current round by round rules would apply.