Posted on October 17, 1999


Outcomes-Based Hockey

Has the NHL gone sensitive?


Daniel Clark


This season, the National Hockey League has instituted a new overtime format, according to which no team is allowed to lose. No, really. They've actually concocted a system by which, when one team wins, the other team's result is a tie, at least as reflected by its point total.

Lame hockey graphic

Normally, every hockey game is worth two points. If you win, you collect both points, and your opponent leaves with none. In the event of a tie, each team receives a single point. According to the new rule, when regulation play ends in a tie, each team is awarded its point at that moment. Then they proceed to overtime, where either team can secure a second point by winning, but the losing team keeps its point, so that a total of three points is awarded.

To accommodate this new phenomenon, the NHL has added a new column to the standings for "regulation ties"(RT), separate from the column for ties (T). When neither team scores in overtime, the game ends in a tie, and is recorded in the ordinary ties column. When there is an overtime goal, the standings count the game twice for the loser, as both a loss and a regulation tie. The scoring team is credited with a win, but not a regulation tie, although they, of course, were also involved in a tie game at the end of regulation time.

This convoluted system is part of the league's plan to add excitement to the game, by making it easier to score in overtime. In an effort to increase the number of overtime goals, more open ice is created by removing one player from each side, so that each team is playing with four skaters, instead of the standard compliment of five.

This alone would make it more difficult for teams to play for a tie, but what it would not do is disincline them from trying. So the NHL decided to make it easier to commit to playing for a win, by removing the threat of losing. Once relieved of the inhibiting possibility of failure, teams will be free to abandon defense and channel all their efforts into trying to score. Then if a defensive lapse causes them to give up a goal, they don't really lose, because, hey, at least they tried, so a loss wouldn't seem fair.

If the NHL believes this philosophy will make its sport more exciting, and therefore more successful, then here are some suggestions for future rule changes, in keeping with the game's prevailing spirit of fairness and feelgoodity:


* Instead of the rigid and judgmental terms "wins," "losses" and "ties," start tallying results under the headings "achieving," "progressing" and "striving."

* Add one point to each team's total for every game, so that a win is worth 3 points, a tie or regulation tie is worth 2 points, and a losing team is given a single point, so at least they don't go away empty-handed.

* For one period a game, have the referees give their orange armbands to the linesmen, so that they can feel what it's like from each others' point-of-view.

* Change the All-Star Game to the Everyone's-A-Star Game. Invite even those players who've been demoted to the minors since the season opener.

* Drop the puck for a face-off only if the score is tied. Otherwise, possession automatically goes to the team which is trailing.

* Let each player draw his own lines. Stop impeding creativity with arbitrary distinctions like icing and off-sides.

* Eliminate the goal crease, but require all players to approach the opposing goalie before the game and promise to respect his space.

* Put psychological counselors in the penalty boxes. Explore the "root causes" of boarding, slashing and cross-checking.

* End power plays, because five players against four is unfair. Instead, allow penalized players to pay their debts through community service, by playing the organ or driving the zamboni.

* Address inequities in the distribution of ice time. Once game time expires, invite all the fourth-line players from each team onto the ice to play, until they have amassed as many minutes as the starters. Goals scored during this time would be acknowledged on the scoreboard, although they would not be officially recorded.

* Since very few players are capable of scoring three goals in one game, ban hat-trick celebrations, in order to curb the inequitable distribution of goods, in this case headwear, to the privileged few.

* Change the goal judge's light from red to a more passive color, so that the goalie doesn't feel that the light is yelling at him for failing to stop the puck.

* Reverse decades of racial discrimination by passing a rule which requires that, each year, at least one of the league's post-season awards be given to a German.

* At the midway point of the season, allow all teams to apply to the league office for aid from a standings supplementation program, which would use a needs-based approach to distribute additional points to its applicants, on a sliding scale.

* When a team leads its division by ten points or more, require that it trade its leading scorer to the last-place team in its division, in exchange for a draft pick, to be determined by the teams' projected records for the following season.


See? If all these steps are taken, then nobody will ever really lose an NHL game again. As a result, players would feel so uninhibited, that it would surely result in excitement aplenty. So order your season tickets today!


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