The Hockey Experts Are On The Loose Again
It is hard to imagine a hockey fan calling overtime a problem. Everyone loves sudden death overtime. Its a Stanley Cup tradition, the fairest way to decide a game and the most exciting tiebreaker in professional sport.
Overtime is also uncompromising. There are no shortcuts, so occasionally fans are treated to a marathon, a hockey game that stretches into two, three, four, even five overtime periods before a goaltender finally cracks. They are epic nights, remembered for years to come as hockey at its gut-clenching best.
But when these all-nighters become regular events, the novelty can wear thin. With the second round yet to be completed, the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs have already featured three double-overtime games, three triple-overtimes and one game that didnt end until the fifth overtime period. By the time Anaheim and Dallas finished that one the fourth longest game in Stanley Cup history the building was only half full. After all, most fans had baby sitters to relieve or morning commutes to make. When Petr Sykora scored for the Ducks, the prevailing emotion seemed to be a flood of relief from everyone involved.
Still, even those who gave up and went home that night probably did so without complaint. Sudden death overtime is what it is, and if that means an occasional winning goal scored at 1:30 in the morning, so be it.
But extended overtime puts a visible strain on the folks working the television studio. As games stretch deep into the night, you can see the hairspray fail, the crisp white shirts going limp, the bags growing under the eyes and the exasperation of men trying to fill yet another unexpected intermission with chit-chat. Inevitably, they begin to wonder if overtime should be curtailed, with four-on-four hockey or a shootout introduced to get us a quicker result.
If a six-hour hockey game is a problem and no one here is saying that it is, but for now lets entertain the notion, if only for the sake of fans who have to catch the last train home or broadcasters who have to do another game the next night then it is only a symptom of a larger issue, one we have already heard too much about: NHL games do not generate as many goals as they used to. Goals-per-game have been at or near an all-time low for the last decade or so. Great goaltending and precise defense are the hallmarks of this era, so it is little wonder that the play tightens up even further when the games really begin to count.
That brings us to the familiar list of more offense ideas that have been making the rounds for years now: eliminate the red line, make the nets bigger, go four-on-four fulltime, etc. The idea of NHL hockey with no red line is intriguing, but most of the other ideas are simplistic, hare-brained schemes, and the NHL has wisely ignored them. Like the recent suggestions to shorten overtime, the various proposals for fixing the game come from Canadian sportswriters and broadcasters, a surprising number of whom dont appear to like hockey at all.
These experts are hopelessly out of touch with the fans, who seem to like the game just fine. If they occasionally leave tickets unsold or seats unused, its probably because the prices are too high or the home team too bad, a deadly combination in any sport.
Unlike the narcissistic experts and jaded agitators who roam the press boxes and broadcast booths, hockey fans are more willing to take the long view: some playoff years have more lengthy games than others, but most of the time most games are decided at a decent hour. As for the persistent call for more goals, lets set aside the historical statistics and consider the evidence on the ice, which suggests that a good 2-1 game is no less exciting than a defensively shoddy 6-5 shootout.
Quack! Quack! Quack!
More Stanley Cup Notes:
Upsets and Abuse: The Opening Round Notebook