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BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO SUDDEN DEATH
RESTRUCTURED OVERTIME SHOULD MAKE FEWER GAMES FIT TO BE TIED

Ties.

Like kissing your sister. Acceptable on the road, but not on home ice.

Something the National Hockey League is trying to minimize if not eliminate.

The NHL has adapted a radical new overtime rule for the 1999-2000 season. The change promises to be one of the moretalked-about renovations of the game since 1983.

During the regular season, teams still will play a five-minute, sudden-death overtime if the score is tied after regulation. That's been the rule since the 1983-84 season. The difference now is that teams will play the five-minute sudden death overtime with four skaters and the goaltender. If a team scores in overtime, it will get two points in the standings for the win. The loser of an overtime game will get one point.

As a result, a new category, regulation tie (RT), will be added to the NHL standings. When a team allows a goal in overtime it will receive credit for a regulation tie. When neither team scores in overtime the game will be recorded as a standard tie (T).

Under the old rule, an overtime win was treated the same as a win in regulation -- the winner got two points, the loser none. Of course, each side received a point if overtime did not break the tie.

While many NHL coaches and players welcome the rule change, coach Lindy Ruff of the Sabres hasn't made up his mind yet.

"We'll have to wait and see," Ruff said, while conceding his team figures to have an advantage much of the time with the four-on-four rule.

"With our goaltender (Dominik Hasek) and our team speed, it should give us a little room to create a few more chances," Ruff said. "We've got a couple of goaltenders who should be able to make the big stop if you do give up a two on one."

The four-on-four game is going to favor the more skilled players, the better skaters and the better defensive players. Some slower and less-skilled players probably won't step on the ice at all during the overtime.

"You could probably send half the bench to the dressing room to watch on TV," Ruff said. "If you're playing Pittsburgh, you're going to see Jaromir Jagr every second shift. If you're playing Anaheim you're going to see Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya. So, obviously you've got a limited number of role players to play in that situation -- maybe only four or five of your forwards."

"I love the idea of four on four in overtime," said the Mighty Ducks' Kariya, who was the third-leading scorer in the NHL last year with 101 points. "I think it's going to make overtime that much more exciting. It will showcase the skill of players to a great extent. And now you'll see teams going for the win and playing hard for that extra point."

"Anything that we can do that enables more results in terms of wins and losses rather than ties, I think this is a positive," Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson said. "I think that you will see the coaches open things up because they already have a point for their hard work."

Ruff doesn't necessarily agree that coaches will go all out for a win all the time. He foresees himself coaching more conservatively in overtime against opponents from the Eastern Conference than against Western Conference teams.

"There will be added pressure when you're playing against the East. You won't want to give up a point to somebody that you've got to beat to get to the playoffs. Playing against the West, you can go for it because the (extra) point they might get doesn't really affect you."

Sabres captain Michael Peca envisions situations where one team involved in an overtime game will be more desperate for a victory.

"I think you're going to see a lot of teams go maybe with three forwards and one defenseman, especially if they need to win a hockey game. It (the four-on-four rule) can add a lot of different type of scenarios."

Scott Bowman, coach of the Detroit Red Wings, believes NHL fans are in for a treat with the new rule.

"I think what it will do is provide the fans with a chance to see your elite players play, probably 75 percent of that five-minute game, and I think it's going to cause excitement for the fans because they're going to get a chance to see real top-notch individual players -- ones that can skate or ones that can stickhandle, ones that can hold the puck. . . . When you're playing a four-on-four situation, possession is a big factor."

"I like four-on-four. It creates some excitement," said Peca, who figures to see a lot of ice time in overtime because of his two-way skills. Peca, though, does not favor one aspect of the new rule.

"I don't agree," Peca said, "that if you lose in overtime you still get a point. I think that is kind of a poor consolation. If you lose you lose. If you win you win. There should be no middle ground."

The NHL adopted the rule based on the American Hockey League format. The AHL has been awarding at least one point to each team in an overtime game for the last four seasons. Then the AHL implemented the four-on-four overtime format during the latter part of last season.

The NHL played overtime to attempt to resolve ties until early in the 1942-43 season. Overtime was dropped because of World War II travel considerations. Overtime in the regular season did not come back until the 1983-84 season. That year, the number of ties decreased to 86 (10.2 percent) in regular-season games from 127 (15.1) in the 1982-83 season.

Since overtime returned in 1983-84, the number of games going to overtime has been on the increase while the number of games decided in overtime has been consistently decreasing.

Last year, 20.5 percent (222 of 1,107) of NHL regular-season games went to overtime, but only 27 percent (60 of 222) broke the tie. By comparison, back in 1983-84, 16.7 percent (140 of 840) of NHL games went to overtime and 38.6 (54 of 140) resulted in decisions.

The new rule has some quirks dealing with man-advantage situations in overtime. For example, if a five-on-four situation carries over from regulation into overtime, it becomes a four-on-three in the extra session. A two-man advantage in overtime will not become four against two, however. Instead, a four-on-three advantage will become five against three.

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