Overtime in sports is exactly that: extra playing time to determine a winner, not an opportunity to change the rules.
In baseball, they play extra innings to award a victory, not a home run derby.
In basketball, it’s the same thing. The teams play until one ends up with more points than the other, not a slam dunk competition.
In football, the rules don’t change after regulation to see who can kick the longest field goal. The game remains the same.
Hockey should be no different. In the past, fear of marathon games that sometimes occur, as seen in the playoffs, halted the play after a five minute overtime at the most. But most games don’t go past one extra period, and that’s in the playoffs, when a loss can cripple a team.
This season especially has made that very clear. So far in this year's playoffs there have been 15 games to go beyond regulation. The average time it has taken to score the overtime winner is 10:28.
Excluding the four-overtime game between Dallas and San Jose in Game Six of the Western semifinals, the other 14 overtime games have ended in an average of just 6:45, with only one of them going past the first extra period.
Now put the teams in a 4-on-4 situation during the regular season and see how many last beyond ten minutes. Of course some will, but that is the nature of the game. No one should fight it, because overtime is the most exciting part of hockey. A 17- or 18-inning baseball game is not unheard of, either.
Sudden death is the ultimate emotional roller coaster for a fan, as every single play can result in triumph or catastrophe. Think of the greatest games in NHL history and why they stand out.
Many times a great individual effort such as a 10-point game, or a team that comes back from a five-goal deficit in the third period makes a game unforgettable. In many cases, it’s the overtime hero fans remember most, because it’s that one play that stands out in the memories of fans like no other.
Now try to think of a shoot-out that has had the same impact. There might be one or two. Can we really not live without the shoot-out? And what about the team that makes the playoffs because of the shoot-out? Those teams really don’t deserve to be there because it’s not part of the playoffs at all.
Plain and simple, the shoot-out has no place in professional hockey. It should not exist in NHL, because it’s a terrible excuse for excitement. Intensity cannot be fabricated as it is in the current post-overtime game, since the entire process is made up of only two outcomes; goal or no goal. That is not excitement. That is fear.
As a fan, when the opposing team comes down the ice on a breakaway, many fans are not watching with enthusiasm hoping to see a remarkable save by the goaltender. Instead they are more often hoping for a no-goal situation by way of a mistake by the shooter.
A hockey game cannot be ended without playing hockey, and the shoot-out is not hockey. There is no defensive part of the game. There is no physical part of the game. And most importantly, there is no teamwork involved. Hockey is a team sport, and that should not be brushed aside.
As for the argument that teams can't afford to chance missing a post-game flight and that travel is a major issue in this debate, there are always the odd times where a game must be postponed. It might happen five times per year at the most. A week at the end of the season can be reserved for these few games that need to be played.
This does not need to extend the season either. It is not like the old days, when a player waited until training camp to get ready for the season. The players today train 12 months per year and are ready to go when September rolls around.
For this reason, seven, eight, nine preseason games are no longer required. Cut the preseason to about four or five games, and it will clear room for any games that need to be postponed by moving the season ahead one week.
When it comes to the games on TV going to overtime, during double-headers for example, most networks have regional broadcasts allowing viewers to see the game they want anyway, whenever games overlap.
Bonus coverage during intermissions or using alternate network feeds provide viewers with all they need to avoid missing anything.
Continuous overtime does not have to be sacrificed because of a few minor issues. The shoot-out must go.
During the regular season, the NHL should continue using a 4-on-4 structure for overtime but with a minor change. Instead of going to a 4-on-3 situation during penalties, a player would be added to the ice in favour of the team on the power play, creating a 5-on-4 situation, simply because 4-on-3 results in a goal almost half of the time, where a 5-on-4 power play goal ends up in the net only about 20% of the time.
As for the playoffs, 5-on-5 is the way to go throughout the entire game. Since time and travel is not such a factor as it is during the regular season, it is best to leave the game alone and keep the rules the same until a winner is decided.