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Let's Change Some Rules | February

Six years removed from an ugly lockout that cost the NHL an entire season and who knows how many thousands of casual fans, the League, thanks to stellar Cup Finals match-ups the last three years, has started to raise again in popularity and has started winning back some of those casual fans. And with both the NFL and NBA facing possible labor issues in the near future, who knows what exposure the NHL could be getting soon.

Regardless of other leagues' situations, it's time for the NHL to look at the changes made six years ago and reevaluate some of them and certain avenues they affect. Namely the points system, shootouts and the trapezoid.

Let's start first with the trapezoid because it's the easiest to talk about. To help open up offense, the NHL decided to pain arbitrary lines on the ice below the red line to create a trapezoid shape where the goalies could play the puck. Thanks to goalies like Rick DiPietro, Martin Brodeur and Marty Turco, guys who could really handle the puck in the corners, the NHL wanted to limit goalies handling the puck. Too many times in the old NHL would a team try to dump and chase, just to have the goalie skate out to the corner, stop the puck and lob out back into the neutral zone. The hope was that limiting goalie play in the corners would give offenses better shots and successfully deploying the dump and chase and increase scoring.

But after a while, what did goalies start to do? They'd either get to the puck before it went into the corner and lob it out, or get the puck, push it through the no play zone and into the trapezoid and handle it there.

With less hooking, holding, clutching and grabbing, there is more speed through the neutral zone than there was before the lockout, so players are more likely to reach the puck before the goalies because they aren't being held up. Therefore, get rid of the trapezoid. Goalies have found ways around it and the players are faster to the puck anyway, so get rid of the thing. There are enough lines on the ice and little intricacies to the game as it is, and when you're trying to get casual fans interested in the game and to be able to understand it, the last thing you need is someone giving a geometry lesson about goalies playing the puck. Get rid of those four lines, two at each end, that make up the trapezoid.
Now let's talk about the points system and the shootout as these two really go hand in hand with one another. The shootout was ended to abolish ties from hockey; no more paying 50 bucks for a game with no winner, no more spending three hours watching a game with no loser. There were the great number of people in favor of it and the great number of detractors who hated the idea, but it was new and exciting and it worked.

Then, after years in the league and multiple chances to see what players and goalies excelled in the individual competitions and which faltered, teams would use the shootout as a points strategy. Teams going into overtime with players talented in shootout skills would just skate around for fun for five minutes, waiting to earn the second point of the game there.

Unhappy with teams being content on winning a team game with an individual competition, several GMs proposed a new standings tiebreaker to eliminate teams waffling about for five minutes in overtime. The rule says that games won in regulation and overtime are straight up wins, but games won in the shootout are now to become what I call "empty wins." In other words, if two teams are tied in the standings in points, the total number of regulation and overtime wins, not overall wins, is the tiebreaker. Therefore, the NHL adds another column to an already large standings board to display a team's shootout record.

So now we have cases where a team that has more wins is behind a team in the standings it's tied in points with because too many of their games didn't end fast enough. Team A is in eighth in their conference and they won 43 games and Team B is in ninth and they won 40. The two teams are tied in points but Team A won six shootout games and Team B only won two, so even though Team B won three less games, more of their wins "counted more" and they are now eighth instead of Team A. Brilliant stuff. Overtime is fine, but the shootouts aren't?

The NHL needs to take a page out of some soccer leagues around the world that use a 3-2-1-0 points system. It does put the NHL back to a four-wide standings column as it was pre-lockout, but it makes more sense. If you win the game in the first 60 minutes, you get three points. If you win in overtime or the shootout, two points. If you lose in overtime or the shootout, one point. If you lose in regulation, nothing. There are too many games at the end of the season where a team high in the standings is playing a team in eighth or ninth, the game is tied and it goes to overtime. The team high in the standings has already clinched a playoff spot, they have no incentive to play hard for that second point because it's too late in the season to make a difference for them, but the team on the bubble, who could really use both points, is content getting at least that one point. Neither team pushes hard, 60 minutes end and both teams get a point for giving minimal effort in the last ten minutes of the game.

Adding a third point to a regulation win would make team

 s push harder near the end of games. Teams get rewarded for winning in the initial allotted time of the game and the endings become more hectic and interesting for fans to watch as teams on the bubble push hard at the end of the game, even though it's tied, to try and win to earn a third point instead of potentially only two or one.

I'm not for phasing out the shootout completely because I don't want ties back nor do I want the playoff "play until you score" rule in the regular season. I like the idea of playing 4-on-4 for five minutes, then 3-on-3 for five minutes, then the shootout, a suggestion made this past offseason. It's clear GMs and the League are fine with limiting the importance of the shootout, but they also don't want to get rid of it for the two reasons I just listed above. The League, coaches and players may not all be keen on adding a potential five minutes to games, but if they want to limit shootouts, 3-on-3 is the best way to go.

Look at the open ice and offensive opportunities created when overtime went to 4-on-4, that gets even larger when you go to 3-on-3. Of the 794 games completed this regular season, only 91 games have gone to a shootout, that's roughly 11.5% of games. So what, five percent of games end up going to a shootout with the added 3-on-3, maybe eight percent at most?

So the trapezoid no longer serves a purpose in the game and frankly should have been out one or two years ago, get rid of it this offseason. And the points system solves the shootout issues and the 3-on-3 really puts a lid on GMs unhappy with the final resort to ending games. And to be honest, I'd rather watch five minutes of the best players in the world go 3-on-3 than a shootout any day.