Vulgar Statistics: I Hate NHL Overtime
This is one of my biggest pet peeves about the NHL, its overtime format. It isn’t even that I hate shootouts, I actually love them. I just think they should be a special treat and that the game of hickey is oversaturated with them. This is about what I think is a no brainer, that the current overtime format simply isn’t good enough.
If it were satisfactory, we would see the majority of extra time games end with actual hockey being played, as it should be. Even with the 4 on 4 format the number of extra time games ending with an overtime goal, and the number going to the shootout were dead even at 296 apiece. That’s roughly one in every eight games being decided by the skills competition. It seems ridiculous to have a system in place that is basically a coin flip over whether or not it matters. And it’s not like solutions are few and far between, or even needlessly complicated. Some advocate a gradual decrease in skaters on the ice, starting with 5 on 5 or 4 on 4 and dropping a skater for each team over time, but that seems just as gimmicky as the shootout and there are better options available.
No the obvious solution is a simple one. Extend overtime five little minutes, and then go to the shootout. Some will say that after ten minutes the ice will degrade to a dangerous lack of quality. Would five minutes really matter that much? I find it difficult to believe that the ice would be that bad, or the players would be at that much risk, especially after seeing worse in the conditions at the first Winter Classic. The players will be fine.
Extending the overtime to ten minutes would make a huge difference, especially if the 4 on 4 format is kept. We already know that 4 on 4 hockey produced a goal 50% of the time within five minutes in extra time. I took the Blues, Canucks, Capitals, Devils, and Sabres (who encompassed the highest and lowest scoring teams and whose average of goals scored was identical to the league average) and tracked how many goals they scored or allowed within the first five minutes, and first ten minutes of a period.
I found that those five teams scored or allowed a goal within the first five minutes in 34.9% of the periods they played, and scored or allowed a goal within the first ten minutes in 56.9% of the periods they played. Since 4 on 4 hockey and 5 on 5 hockey are two different things, what matters more than those numbers is the 62.9% increase in a goal being scored when a team had ten minutes instead of five. What it implies is that if overtime were extended to ten minutes, we would see around 62.9% more games end in overtime instead of heading to the shootout. Applying that number to the 296 apiece for OT/SO games in 2010-2011, the extra five minutes shifts the balance to around 482 games ending in overtime, and 110 ending in the shootout. That’s 4% of all NHL games ending in shootouts, or one in about every 22.
I’m not an expert, so I’m perfectly willing to admit that playing an extra five minutes on used ice may in fact be too dangerous to risk, but if it isn’t, it seems that adding five extra minutes to overtime is a no brainer. Hockey games are already fairly short so there isn’t a length issue, and advertisers would probably be happy to get that much more screentime. Finally (most importantly) it would make the fans happier because let’s be honest, while entertaining, a skills competition is a silly way to decide more than 12% of all NHL games.