The American Hockey League wrapped up its annual Board of Governors meeting on Thursday.
Such news wouldn't typically merit an update, but the tall foreheads who gathered this week at Hilton Head Island, S.C., agreed on a rule change that has a real chance of filtering up to the NHL, where it would impact one of the most popular, and controversial, elements of the game.
Starting next season teams in the AHL will—following a tie at the end of three periods—play a seven-minute sudden-death overtime period, up from the previous five. That's interesting, but here's where they really step into the void: Teams will start the extra period playing four-on-four, but at the first whistle after three minutes of play "full strength" will be reduced to threee-on-three for the duration of OT.
If the game is still tied after OT, AHL teams will resort to a three-player shootout ... but don't expect to see games get to that point anywhere near as often as they do now (about 13% of the time). The belief is that the wide-open ice will create more scoring opportunities. Add in the fact that teams will switch ends after the third period—putting them into long-change mode (as in the second period)—and there might be enough stretch pass/dead-leg/breakaway craziness to end more games with a goal rather than a skills competition.
You can bet that the results of this change will be watched closely by several NHL GMs who have been trying to minimize the impact of the shootout on the league's standings. Holland and the Penguins' Jim Rutherford have been banging the drums of change loudly for years, but haven't been able to find traction for their proposals. They may continue to face opposition even if the AHL's change has the intended effect. The shootout—no matter that it is seen as a gimmick by some GMs (and by some members of the media)—has been wildly popular with the paying public since it was introduced as the ultimate tie-breaker back in 2005.
Playing three-on-three is a gimmick too, of course, but at least its use in the AHL will give Holland and Rutherford a substantial sample size to prove that it's a viable option. And if the entertainment value is there, this concept could be on the agenda for the NHL next summer.
Now if only someone would show the league how to deal with the loser point ...