The National Hockey League has officially announced the dates and schedules for its annual Research, Development, and Orientation Camp. The 2011 event will take place on August 17th and 18th at the Mastercard Centre for Excellence in Etobicoke, Ontario. If you aren’t familiar with this event, it is where the league tests new ideas for rule changes and general operations. The main participants of the camp will be the 2012 draft prospects that will be coached by Dan Bylsma (Penguins) and Dave Tippett (Coyotes). The schedule is already stacked with testing many ideas such as no touch icing, overtime options, net adjustments, as well as faceoff variations (among other things). This camp has proved to be a great event to work out bugs or shoot down wild ideas that make their way to the league offices. Whether or not they decide to make major changes is up to Brendan Shanahan, who is the Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations for the league. However, if they are serious about improving the game, they should address one scenario this year – overtime rules.

In the 2010-2011 season, there were 297 games (out of a possible 1,230) that required overtime play to decide a winner.  Out of the 297 overtime games, 149 of those games went to a shootout, which comes out to 12% of the games played. For a league that puts so much value on point standings, 149 points is a lot to gamble with considering the separation between first and ninth place positions in last years standings were 16 points in the Eastern Conference and 22 points in the West. There are plenty of teams that missed the playoffs due to a few bad bounces in the shootouts. The teams that benefited the most and least from these shootouts are up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is the fact that the league needs to drop the percentage of games that result in a shootout.

If the league can drop the overall percentage from 12% to 5-7%, we would see a clearer picture on the quality of each roster. Rolling out an Alex Tanguay (Flames) or Radim Vrbata (Coyotes) doesn’t mean you have a great roster, it just means that you have players who have the individual skills to reap the rewards at the shootout drill. Overall the league needs to let a team win or lose as a team. Shootouts, while exciting, do not allow for such play. Therefore, in an effort to change the overtime system, Shanahan should implement a five-minute 3-on-3 scenario for the overtime period.

Why should the league immediately go to a 3-on-3 overtime session?

1. It would highlight the league’s top players.

Giving a player more time and space in a 3-on-3 scenario can be a dream come true for the marketing of the game in the North America. Not only would it bring forth a slew of new names and highlights of goals and plays, but it would also allow players to shine in team play.

Imagine on any given night we could see a potential overtime that forces teams to juggle their rosters to put a combination of skill, speed, and defense on the ice. Teams will quickly develop overtime personalities, which could help and hurt their chances at winning a game. I would eagerly like to see a few matchups such as:

Ducks (Perry – Getzlaf – Visnovsky) vs. Kings (Kopitar – Doughty – Johnson)
Penguins (Crosby – Neal – Martin) vs. Rangers (Richards – Gaborik – Staal)
Red Wings (Datsyuk – Zetterberg – Lidstrom) vs. Predators (Hornqvist – Weber – Suter)

The quality of a player on the ice would rise, a lot of benches would be shortened, and there would be an increase of pressure on player chemistry.

2. It provides the league to grow internationally.

Travel beyond North America and you’ll find that the ice rink sizes vary. In Olympic play, you’re more likely to find a bigger rink size than the NHL standard (85x200ft). While increasing the NHL rinks isn’t a viable option, you can eliminate one player form each side to give the game more of an open feel. This overtime system could easily appear to fans in Europe who are accustomed to players who work well with open ice. A boost in European audiences is something that the league wants, given the fact that they continue to send teams across the pond to open every season.

3. It eliminates the need for changes in the point system

There is a lot of talk chatter outside the league that pushes for an adjustment in the way the point standings work. The most popular ones slate a regulation win as 3 points, an overtime/shootout win as 2 points, and an overtime/shootout loss as 1 point. By reducing the number of games decided by a shootout, the overall impact of the shootout will be less. I’m sure the outcry will never die completely, but it would be less noticeable.

Despite my lobbying to change the overtime rules, the NHL RDO Camp will bring new solutions on all the current problems that people gripe about. The overtime period is one issue out of many that will be tested in a week or so. I doubt that any major changes will be made immediately and will surely require an additional camp of testing. If you’re like me, however, one can hope to bring a closure to a big elephant that the league needs to address. Hockey is a team sport. Lets keep it that way.