More overtime and fighting changes could be coming to the NHL after a test run in the minors.
The American Hockey League will experiment next season with seven-minute overtime in the regular season, with 3-on-3 beginning at the first whistle beyond three minutes, the league announced Thursday. That means there could be as many as four minutes of 3-on-3 overtime.
AHL president and CEO David Andrews said his league had roughly 16 per cent of its games go to shootouts, and the hope was that these rule changes would reduce that. At the same time, it's a preview for NHL front offices.
"Clearly the hockey folks on our board and our competition committee, which is made up of NHL assistant general managers and AHL general managers, thought that this would be a way to make the overtime even more compelling and hopefully reduce the number of shootouts," Andrews said in a phone interview. "They felt that they'd like to see it in the American League."
If successful in reducing shootouts, the rule could make its way to the NHL. The league is implementing two smaller changes next season, with teams switching ends and a the ice getting a dry scrape before OT. The AHL will also do the dry scrape and long line change for regular-season overtimes.
"I think our coaches and players and general managers still feel that they would rather see the game settled in something other than a shootout," Andrews said. "I think this overtime rule that we're bringing in this year attempts to do that. I think our hockey people believe, and I certainly agree with them, that going to a 3-on-3 is going to become a very entertaining way to try to finish the game for our fans and should lead to a lot of excitement."
Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has long been a proponent of overtime changes to cut down on the number of shootouts, presenting different ideas at meetings over the years. Andrews said he and Holland have talked casually about the topic but that he wasn't directly responsible for these changes.
To make up for lost time from the longer overtime sessions—and to align with the NHL—the AHL will also reduce its shootouts from five players aside to three.
In another rule change, the AHL will give an automatic game misconduct to a player involved in two fights in a game. Three major penalties of any kind will also lead to a game misconduct.
That's still not close to the international rule where one fight results in ejection, but it's a step toward reducing fighting.
"We do have a fairly high incidence of players engaging in multiple fights per game," Andrews said. "With the same player being involved in more than one fight, and we want to see that reduced."
Another change is that a player who loses his helmet won't be able to complete his shift. He'll get a minor penalty unless he immediately goes to the bench or puts the helmet, with chin strap, back on.
Andrews said it was "purely a safety" issue targeted at certain players who are prone to that problem.
"When you look at games, you don't see very often helmets coming off during play," he said. "But when you do, it's usually the same player that you're seeing over and over again losing his helmet."
Last season the NHL made visors mandatory for players entering the league and those with 25 games or fewer of experience. That was done with agreement from the NHL Players' Association and competition committee.
The AHL has no such requirement to ask players for approval.
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said 16 per cent of games go to overtime.