Silverberg: what to do if the NHL is forced to change playoff OT

By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg

With the start of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, multiple games have already experienced the continuous overtime rule that only takes effect in the postseason. Tampa and Columbus played through four and a half overtime periods on Tuesday in a game that lasted more than six hours.

With Carolina and Boston scheduled to follow on the rink from the bubble in Toronto, the Hurricanes and Bruins were moved back to Wednesday morning due to the late ending for the Lightning and Blue Jackets. Carolina and Boston (ironically) played a double overtime game to kick off Wednesday’s action.

To put Tuesday night’s game into context: playing midway through the fifth overtime of a playoff hockey game is the equivalent of playing two and a half full games. The NHL regular season features a single five-minute overtime period, followed by a shootout if neither team scores. NBC Sports NHL analyst Mike Milbury suggested on Twitter a change should be made.

Never mind that Milbury doesn’t realize that’s actually the CN Tower and not the Space Needle. His suggestion to altering the format of postseason bonus hockey follows a recent trend across all sports. College football has put in limitations after a game reaches five overtimes to avoid long games like LSU and Texas A&M’s seven-OT thriller from 2018. The NFL has shortened its overtime period from 15 minutes to ten. Tennis’ grand slam tournaments have implemented tie breaking procedures for the fifth set to avoid matches extending into the night (or for three days as we witnessed in 2010 at Wimbledon). Major League Baseball is beginning extra innings with a runner at second base to speed up games.

So does the NHL change course? Tampa and Columbus have a quick turnaround and play game two of their series Thursday night. Just two days after completing the fourth-longest game in NHL history.

When the NHL implemented the shootout to get rid of games ending in a tie, fans bemoaned the decision. In recent years the league switched from 4-on-4 overtimes to 3-on-3 to create more open ice and scoring chances for the five-minute period in the regular season. Playoff games remain 5-on-5 as usual while playing continuous 20-minute periods.

Hockey purists don’t like the shootout. Who could blame them? It’s not the best way to decide the outcome of a hockey game. It’s certainly not the best way to determine a playoff game. The NHL knows the backlash that would follow if it ever deemed it necessary to decide a playoff game with penalty shots. The shootout isn’t on the table.

If the league is absolutely forced to make a change, it should revert to using 4-on-4 overtimes as it did in the regular season from 1999 through 2016. The reason I don’t recommend 3-on-3 is for the sake of not giving a hefty advantage to the league’s superstars. Playmakers and snipers who can take advantage of the extra white space on the ice would receive a greater benefit with more skaters removed from the rink. This allows games to still be determined somewhat by the stronger team rather than merely the best player.

Obviously players of that caliber still benefit from a 4-on-4, but with the changes we’re seeing across the sports world to make games shorter and prevent players from marathon games, the NHL is likely going to have to alter the format at some point in the near future.

And the shootout simply shouldn’t be a part of the discussion.

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