More Space on the Ice Will Make the NHL Better

By Ben Hamill - July 05 2015

For some time I've wanted to discuss my admitted pipe dream of getting the NHL to enlarge the rinks to European size but continually got sidetracked by other news that I felt needed to be discussed first. And then, lo and behold, the NHL played into my hands and decided to change regular season overtime rules from 4 on 4 to 3 on 3! In addition, when there is a penalty during the five minute overtime, the team that benefits from the penalty will add a player, creating a 4 on 3 situation. A 4 on 3 power play will be far more effective than a 5 on 4 power play.

NHL Rinks Will Not Get Bigger

Now, this is great news for people who love hockey. Before I elaborate, let me first put a dead horse to sleep. I know the NHL won't take out seats to enlarge rinks. The superiority of the European style of play is obvious. The aesthetic side of hockey shines through in Europe. The NHL needs to find ways to emphasize speed, passing, and puck handling. The massive decrease in fighting has improved the league immeasurably.

Playoff Overtime is Vastly Different Than Regular Season Overtime

I also am a firm advocate for continuing the present 5 on 5 overtime during the playoffs. There is simply nothing in sports better than overtime hockey in the playoffs where two exhausted teams play until someone wins. There is nothing worse than the abominations that regularly occur in soccer (football to most of the world) where championships are decided by penalty kicks, as teams kick against hapless goalkeepers until someone scores the winning "goal". This year, the new (and old) Stanley Cup Champion, Chicago Black Hawks, played two triple overtime games, one with only four trusted defensemen.

Showcase the Best Players in Overtime

The idea behind three on three overtimes is to open the ice so that skilled players have better chances to score and end the game. The new rule will create a larger market for fast players with puck-handling skills. It will weaken the case for any team to carry lumbering loads of muscle.

When Hockey Turned into Wrestling

There was a time, before many of you were born, when the NHL was like wrestling on ice. It was a goon league and the gooniest team actually won the Stanley Cup. I'm not saying the Philadelphia Flyers didn't have any good players—they did. But their overall game was pure criminal intimidation—a veritable Mafia on Ice.

Why Are There Shootouts

So the change to 3 on 3 overtimes means the league will see a vast reduction in shoot out games. This is very welcome news! However, why should there be any shoot out games at all. The best fans know that the shoot out is a travesty of hockey. If the NHL feels that it needs overtime to avoid ties, and has now decided to make overtimes 3 on 3, then perhaps the league could decide to eschew the shoot out and go back to good old ties.

A Suggestion to Further Avoid Ties

By way of review, we have a situation where the league has decided to avoid ties. As the game was played until the new rule change was adopted, many coaches played for overtime, knowing that an overtime game guaranteed them a point. Third periods have become hockey's version of sleeping pills as coaches play for those precious points. So, here is another rule change that might renew excitement in third periods.

After the ten minute mark of third periods in which the score is either tied or one goal separates the teams, have the teams go to 4 on 4 hockey. Let's see how this might affect the game. Since the rule calls for 4 on 4 after ten minutes of the third period in tied or one-goal games, a coach whose team is ahead by one goal early in the third period, might play more offensive hockey looking for the second goal which would end the change to 4 on 4. And, of course, fewer players on the ice would make it more likely that a goal would be scored in the last ten minutes of games, either to tie the game, break the tie, or extend the lead. In either case, the hockey that would be showcased would be fast-paced hockey performed by highly skilled players—exactly what we have always wanted hockey to be!

An Excellent First Step

The Board of Governors has never been known for boldness. I remember well how Wayne Gretzky saved the league, not because the Board of Governors thought his style of play was more aesthetic than the goonish style of the 1970's, but because they correctly saw him as the league's most valuable asset and moved to reduce fighting in order to protect their asset! The results have made hockey the beautiful game it is today.

The rule change to 3 on 3 overtime will improve the NHL even more. Hopefully, the Board of Governors will see fit to eliminate shootouts altogether in the future and possibly to enlarge the rinks by reducing the number of skaters in the third periods of close games. The Chicago Blackhawks shocked the hockey world by trading future Hall of Fame player Brandon Saad because of salary cap problems. I look forward to seeing Brandon Saad on the ice in overtime, using his enormous hockey skills to dominate play.