NHL Games Changed by Overtime Rule, Prof Finds

October 03, 2007 - News Release

An NHL rule change aimed at boosting goal scoring during overtime has had the desired effect, but at the expense of offensive play during regular games, a University of Guelph researcher has found.

Prof. Alfons Weersink, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, examined the outcome of all the NHL games played from 1995 to 2004 to determine the impact the 1999/2000 season rule change has had on the way the game is played.

Published recently in the Canadian Journal of Economics, his research shows that the current overtime award system is having a perverse effect on the way professional hockey is being played.

Prior to 1999, the team that won in overtime was awarded two points and the team that lost received none. If the game remained tied after overtime, both teams were awarded one point. This resulted in conservative play in overtime because teams didn’t want to chance losing the point they were automatically awarded if the game remained tied after overtime.

In an effort to stimulate more exciting and entertaining hockey, the NHL changed the rule in 1999. Now both teams get a point for tying, and an extra point goes to the team that wins in overtime. As a result, teams are playing more offensively during overtime because even if they lose, they still get a point, said Weersink, who worked on the research with economists Anurag Banerjee of the University of Durham and Johan Swinnen of Leuven University in Belgium.

"The rule change has been successful because now there is a goal scored to break the tie in about 50 per cent of overtime games compared with 25 per cent under the old rule," said Weersink.

At the same time, the rule change has created more of an incentive to go into overtime, which means there's less incentive to win during a regular game, he said.

"Some teams on certain nights will play for a tie and then go for it in overtime because they are guaranteed a point if they go into overtime. This has resulted in less aggressive offence during the regular games. Changing the rules has changed the incentives and changed the way the game is played."

Since the rule change, the number of games going into overtime has increased from 20 to 25 per cent and the spread in the score between teams after the second and third period has become narrower, he said.

One way to encourage teams to go for wins during regulation play is to increase the incentive for winning, he said. A point system could be used similar to the one followed in professional soccer where a team is awarded three points for winning during the regular game and two points for winning overtime, he said.

"Teams would really go for the win during regulation play because they would be awarded the extra point. It only seems fair that winning a game within regulation time should mean relatively more than winning in overtime."

Alfons Weersink
Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics
519-824-4120, Ext. 52766

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, 519-824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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