NHL hockey games can not end in a tie. If, by the end of the game, the scores of both teams are level – then an overtime period is put in place in order to determine the undisputed winner. The overtime period then enters a shootout if both teams are still level.
Important NCAA games also can not end in ties and follow the exact same model as their NHL counterparts. This rule came into place to give fans and players a more consistent hockey experience.
However, not every hockey institution shares the same rules. At the NCAA level, hockey games can end in a tie – as can amateur games. Every institution has a different philosophy in regards to the conclusion of games – however, you’ll never see a Major League game end in a draw. The reasons for this are long and varied – and I’ll be covering those as we go along in this article.
Although the NHL allowed ties for most of its history, a slump in the number of goals being scored per game led to them adjusting the rules to make play more entertaining for the fans.
How Does the NHL Overtime Period Work?
If both teams are drawing at the end of the game, both teams will reduce the number of outfield players from 5 to 3. This is done to create space on the field and provide players with a greater chance of receiving passes in a point-scoring area. If the number of outfield players stayed at the usual 5, then the field is more congested, and the chances of there being a decisive moment in the game are reduced.
Unlike in certain sports where the overtime period is always played to its maximum, there is a sudden death rule in hockey that means whoever scores the next point wins the whole game. The rest of the overtime period is abandoned in sudden death. This is done to create urgency in the game, which both motivates the players and entertains the crowd. There is no time for defensive, pragmatic play in overtime, and each team must be brave and attack at any means necessary.
The winning team is awarded 2 points in overtime (OT) victory whereas the losing team actually gains a point for losing in overtime. This in contrast to the zero points awarded for a loss in regular time.
During an NHL playoff game, there is a twenty-minute period of overtime compared to the usual five, in order to give both teams ample chance of scoring. Shootouts are sometimes not the fairest of ways to win games, so the extra incentive to score in regular play is evident with the big increase of additional time.
A shootout is the absolute last resort in a hockey game. If neither team manages to score in sudden death overtime, then both teams must partake in a free shot on goal. The player runs from the center and tries to beat the opposition goalie with a shot. This process goes on and on until there is a situation where one player scores and the opposition does not.
This model of gameplay has transcended the NHL and is now in use in every major professional hockey league from the United States, to Canada, to Europe. This was done to make the rules consistent for players and fans overseas, and for the game to have a more streamlined understanding with people from all over the world. Every major institution has the same rules, therefore the game is consistent across every spectrum.
Why Doesn’t the NHL Allow Ties?
The NHL used to allow ties and, for the majority of its history, allowed them to happen in games. It was a common sight to see a hockey game ended in a tie, and generations of fans watched the sport without knowing any different.
The 2004/05 season brought with it a new rule that eliminated ties altogether from its games. This was, in part, a reactionary move brought about by the ‘Dead Puck Era’ of the game, which saw the average of goals scored fall from 7.6 in the 1980s to just 5.19 in 1999.
As interest and attendance began to free-fall in the NHL, drastic change was needed both on and off the field. The elimination of ties was a big step in reviving the interest of the fledgling National Hockey League.
The shootout rule was put in place in order for each game to have a clear and decisive winner. This was done for the fans primarily in order to make each NHL game ‘must-see.’ If games ended in a tie on a regular basis, then the entertainment value of the game would decline and, as a result, the viewership and revenue of the NHL would continue to dwindle.
The shootout period engages the fans, motivates the players, and leads to an overall sense of urgency in the product. The lack of ties makes each game a matter of winner takes all, and viewers are more likely to tune in if they know one team is definitely winning.
Whilst the shootout model makes perfect business sense, it does have its fair share of critics – who point out that shootouts are more about individual skill and luck rather than unified team performances.
The NHL may return to having ties in the future, but for the last 16 years, shootouts have been a staple of their games and are now second-nature to both players and fans alike. Whilst everything is possible in the world of professional hockey, I would be very surprised if the tie format ever came back.
What Other Hockey Institutions Allow Ties?
As I stated before, the NCAA level of hockey currently allows ties. However, individual rules vary: a nonconference season game can end in a tie – and there is an overtime period of five minutes that can end in a tie if neither team manages to score.
During NCAA games where both teams must progress, however, there is a twenty-minute period of overtime that goes to a shootout if no winner can be decided. The rules vary on the circumstances of the individual game – but, overall, ties are allowed at the NCAA level.
The amateur and recreational side of hockey both allow ties, and that rule will always be in place. Amateur teams do not have the luxury of having their own stadium or hiring one out for the night, and the ice the game is played on is not owned by them in any capacity. These games are often played in municipal settings where ice is booked for a block of time – therefore, there isn’t time for long overtime periods or shootouts.
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Professional hockey has come along way since its dark days of the Dead Puck Era. It continues to flourish and attract new fans all over the world, and this is, in part, due to their abandonment of ties in the mid-2000s. Every game is important, and every player has something to play for.
However, whilst the rules regarding ties vary from institution to institution – yes, a hockey game can end in a tie. However, you won’t be finding them in the NHL.