Sunday's Ducks/Red Wings triple overtime game produced overall a game that was full of drama and passion. It also sparked the debate on whether playoff overtimes are too long and should the playing format be changed.
Keep the Overtime the way it is
Many people feel that the longer an overtime goes, the better the game it becomes. Most people remember the long games because they form a life of their own. The longest game in this decade was the game between in the Flyers and the Penguins in the 2000 Conference Semifinals. The game took 92:01 minutes of overtime and when you think about the game, most people remember that Keith Primeau scored the game winning goal.
The majesty of playoff hockey is that it is do or die. You either win the series or you go home. Overtime hockey because the synthesis of that because either you score or you lose. It creates extra passion and extra tension in the game and hence makes the game more memorable. Even if someone is not rooting for a team, they are apt to follow the game because of the extra intrigue it provides.
Most overtime games in this decade have been decided in the first overtime period. Out of the 137 overtime games since 2000, 108 have been decided within twenty minutes. That is a conversion rate of 78.8% Changing the style of play heading into the overtime period is not needed because of the fact that the system really is not broken.
Change the Overtime system
A playoff game that plays until two or three in the morning does not do the league any good because the casual fan is not going to be watching the game. Unless someone has a rooting interest in the game, they aren't going to stay up late.
Most proposals to changing the overtime period suggest that playoff overtime should go down to four on four hockey just like regular season overtime. This would make sense by looking at the history of regular season overtime. Looking at the overtime history of the Sabres there is a distinct difference in when the game was decided. When sudden death overtime was enacted in 1983, it was the standard five on five hockey that was played during regulation. Games ended in overtime about 30.8% of the time. Four on four sudden death overtime was enacted in 1999 and games were decided in the five minute period about 41.9% of the time. While it still means that many overtimes were going to take longer than five minutes to decide, switching to four on four hockey might lend to shorter overtime periods.
Four on four hockey also creates more space on the ice. More space on the ice means that there will be more scoring chances created. These scoring chances are going to create more excitement which in turn is going to make the overtime period just that much better.
There are also proponents that say after so many overtime periods that the game should head to a shootout. While it may work to create buzz, it makes no sense to decide a team game with individual efforts. Shootouts in the regular season are tolerable but it really should not cross over to the postseason.