One of the hotter topics at recent rules committee meetings for the NHL centered on how to end more games before they have to be decided in a shootout. Alterations to the overtime period seemed like the best way, but there hasn't been a real consensus on exactly what changes to make.
The NHL did make the decision for each team to change ends at the end of regulation so that there is the “long change” like you see in the second period. There is a hope that such an alteration will increase scoring as it will make line changes tougher.
The AHL is getting even more aggressive however with their plans for overtime.
The NHL's top farm league announced the following changes to their overtime procedures for the 2014-15 season:
During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be seven minutes (7:00) in length, preceded by a “dry scrape” of the entire ice surface.
Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.
Full playing strength will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle following three minutes of play (4:00 remaining), at which time full strength will be reduced to 3-on-3 for the duration of the overtime period.
If the game is still tied following overtime, a winner will be determined by a three-player shootout.
So they're making OT two minutes longer and after the first whistle after three minutes, they're taking a player off the ice for each team to play the final four or so minutes at three-on-three. Wild stuff, but it very well could and should lead to more scoring in the overtime period.
It's an aggressive plan, but it's one the NHL will undoubtedly be watching intently.
The fact that they're leaving a four-on-four element will allow both AHL and NHL execs to track how often games end when there are just four players on the ice and the teams have to switch ends. The same goes for the latter portion of overtime in which they'll play three-on-three.
They're also doing it witout completely scrapping the shootout, which has far too big an impact on the standings and not enough on the entertainment value at this point.
If the number of shootouts drastically decreases in the AHL, and with those extra two minutes of OT they probably will, the NHL might be looking to make more aggressive changes to their own OT procedures. It's hard to see the NHL going with this OT as it is drawn up, but perhaps they take one portion of the rule and go with either a longer OT period or just go straight to three-on-three.
One would have to wonder just what kind of conclusions are going to be able to be drawn, but the AHL has been a terrific testing ground for new rules over the years. They implemented the hybrid icing rule prior to the NHL and it was enough of a success that the NHL adopted it last season.
The AHL also introduced two new rules that may or may not impact the NHL down the line.
Fighting is awfully prevalent in the minor leagues and the AHL may be looking to curtail it some. The league will now issue an automatic game misconduct to any player that receives two fighting majors, or a player who has three majors of any kind in the same game.
The league has also implemented a new safety rule. Players that lose their helmet in the course of play will be assessed a minor penalty if they either don't immediately return to their bench for a line change or if they don't immediately put the helmet back on with the chin strap securely fastened before returning to play. So that means no more Craig MacTavish wannabes out there without penalty.
That rule has already been implemented in international play by the International Ice Hockey Federation, but hadn't quite made it to the North American pros yet. Better to be safe than sorry in the age of better awareness of head trauma.
The AHL has proven to be a really strong testing ground for the NHL, so how these rules work will be of great interest heading into next season.