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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tweak OT Rules and McDavid’s Outlier Funk

It was inevitable. Eventually the coaches would find ways to make three-on-three less entertaining. When the NHL introduced four-on-four it was fun, but slowly it became less about creating chances and more about limiting them. So the NHL went to three-on-three and for the first few seasons it was edge-of-your-seat-end-to-end-action. It was awesome. It didn’t matter who was playing, both teams would go for the win.

Not anymore. Now teams are circling back ad nauseum, and for long stretches nothing is happening. Teams won’t attack the puck carrier, and the puck carrier will hang back.

Let’s be honest: 3-on-3 is a gimmick, one that I have enjoyed, but it isn’t nearly as exciting as it used to be, so it is time for a simple change.

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The NHL should implement an over-and-back rule in overtime. This is not changing the sanctity or history of the NHL, because this format hasn’t been around very long, and if it isn’t exciting then change it. This change will force teams to remain on the attack, but more importantly make the extra frame exciting for the fans. The NHL needs more excitement, not less, and I’ve watched coaches take a more cautious approach in many elements of the game for years, and a safer approach in OT will only get worse. It won’t suddenly revert back to end-to-end action, especially late in the season as teams make a push for the playoffs.

I’m stealing a page from basketball rules and would implement an over and back rule.

Once you cross centre, you are not allowed to go back into your half of the ice. It will force teams to remain on the attack, plus it will lead to teams pressuring more in the neutral zone.

The last thing the NHL needs is to make the game less exciting. I loved watching the initial three-on-three OT. Teams would exchange chances, there were plenty of odd man rushes and we’d see highlight reel goals and some highlight reel saves. Some games you’d see teams exchange four or five chances before someone finally scored. The momentum and energy built, and even if the home team lost in OT, usually the fans were entertained. We rarely see that anymore.

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I know the NHL is sloth-like when it comes to making changes, but the competition committee needs to look at it before the problem becomes bigger. Overtime was supposed to be about attacking, but it has become too passive. If you want it to be passive just keep it five-on-five.

If they don’t want over and back, then I’d support Brian Burke’s suggestion of a shot clock in OT. Either way it forces teams to be more aggressive and create opportunities. The NHL realized four-on-four was getting too passive, so they changed it, and it worked for a few years. I hope they show the same leadership and aren’t afraid to alter it again now that OT has become much more passive than previous years.

QUICK HITS…

When you score as many points as Connor McDavid, it is noticeable when you production dips to “only” a point-per-game.

Since December 1st, McDavid has 3-12-15 in 15 games. For 95% of the NHL that is fantastic production, but for McDavid it is below the normal range of 1.33 points/game.

He has had similar stretches before.

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From January 8th, to February 11th, 2017, he scored 4-11-15 in 15 games.

Then from December 9th, 2017, to January 7th, 2018, he produced 3-11-14 in 15 games.

The one major difference between those two stretches and this one is he was +6 in 2017 and +7 in 2018, but he is -10 over the past 15 games. Eliminate the two EN goals he was on for and he is -8.

For McDavid, this is a funk, and arguably the first of his dominant NHL career. By funk I mean not producing to his usual levels, while getting outscored heavily by the opposition. That combination has never happened before for this long of a period.

Even when he wasn’t producing more than one point/game over a 15-game stretch, he was still outscoring the opposition while he was on the ice

McDavid has seven EV points over the past 15 games. Between Jan-Feb 2017, 13 of his 15 points were EV, and from Dec 2017 to Jan, 2018, he only had four powerplay points. Both times it was his PP production that dipped.

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It isn’t just him, of course. The Oilers’ top five forwards are all getting outscored, at even strength, recently. They need to be better as a group, no question, but for McDavid this is the first time we’ve seen this. I don’t expect it to last. He is too good not to rebound.

In 2017 he was +30 at 5×5 (77-47)

In 2018 he was +20 (81-61).

Whether he was on a playoff team, 2017, or a team floundering, 2018, he still was consistently outscoring the opposition when he was on the ice. He still faces the toughest competition every night, so his linemates need to improve as well, but McDavid is good enough that he can lead the turnaround almost single-handedly.

In the first two months of the season he scored 19-3-49, including 28 EV points. He had 3.4 shots/game in 28 games, but only has 2.6 shots/game since December first.

If you are looking for a reason the Oilers can rebound out of this current skid, I’d look at the outlier of McDavid’s on-ice results lately. I’d bank on him rebounding, and when he does the wins should come more frequently.

It was only one game, but the trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Leon Draisaitl-Kailer Yamamoto looked really good. They scored a goal, and created many chances. They controlled the puck, had a Corsi of 13-5, Fenwick 11-4, and outshot the Sabres 8-2. It was only one game, but that is the best results we’ve seen from the second line in a long time.

When McDavid emerges from this short funk, and if the second line can continue with efforts like that, the Oilers should manage a few more victories. The harsh reality for the Oilers is they don’t have enough depth to overcome a prolonged funk for McDavid.

It isn’t ideal, nor fair for the captain, but that is their reality.

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