It took the National Hockey League owners 38 years to restore regular-season overtime, which disappeared because of travel restrictions during World War II. Unfortunately, in their elation over discovery that they could agree on something of a progressive nature, the owners forgot that labor relations have altered somewhat since 1942.
The NHL Players Association, miffed at not being consulted over the addition of a five-minute sudden-death overtime period, is presently polling its members on the subject. A negative vote would probably eliminate the overtime, since this is not the kind of issue the owners will permit to upset their delicate relations with the players.
The 21 player representatives met and the vote on overtime was so close, reportedly 10-10 with one abstention, that it was decided to go to the full membership. A majority undoubtedly favors overtime, but resentment over the failure of the owners to consult the players could tip it the other way.
"I think it would be good for the fans and I'd like to see it," said Rick Green, the Washington Capitals' player rep. "It would add a lot more excitement to come out with a final winer.
"However, at our meeting we decided that we weren't going to consent without the agreement of all the players. It was done on a basis where we knew nothing about it. Our feelings were divided pretty closely, so we felt before we made a decision we'd ask all the players' feelings on it."
For some teams, that means the start of training camp on Sept. 15. Enough Capitals will be attending an optional session at Fort Dupont after Labor Day, however, to enable Green to ascertain Washington's vote early.
Even among those favoring overtime, there is divided opinion over the five-minute rule. Phil Esposito, president of the players association, Prefers sudden death to a conclusion, just as in the playoffs.
Exorbitant television line charges are the key factor here. They are fixed by the hour and a game lasting just one minute over three hours would result in a four-hour charge. The Capitals canceled two telecasts from Winnipeg last season because of excessive line charges.