Should the NHL Consider Making a Change to 3-on-3 Overtime?

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent ISeptember 10, 2013

ST PAUL, MN - DECEMBER 14: Niklas Backstrom #32 of the Minnesota Wild looks on as Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks scores during a shootout on December 14, 2011 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The shootout has been one of the more controversial topics of the NHL landscape since its creation following the 2004-05 lockout.

Deciding games in a team sport with an individual skills competition that uses a scenario that doesn't happen too often during the normal course of play was a horrible idea.

In fact, it was one of the worst changes that the league made after the lockout eight years ago.

This is why a change to the overtime format is needed. One possible tweak would be having a five-minute overtime period of 3-on-3 action if the game remains tied after an extra frame of 4-on-4. If no one scores in both periods, a shootout occurs.

According to ESPN's Craig Custance (paywall warning), there are a few general managers who like the idea of a 3-on-3 overtime format:

In the prospect tournament he runs in Traverse City, Michigan, [Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken] Holland implemented his version of overtime. On Sunday, he and other general managers in the building got to see what it looked like in actual game action for the first time when the Dallas Stars’ prospects beat those from the Minnesota Wild in a shootout that followed the first 3-on-3 overtime session of the tournament. 

The reviews of the 3-on-3 hockey were strong. 

“It’s awesome. It was fun,” said Wild GM Chuck Fletcher. “Imagine Washington and Pittsburgh with [Sidney] Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin, [Alex] Ovechkin, [Mike] Green, [Kris] Letang. Every line change is an odd-man rush.” 

Bear in mind that he was the GM of the losing team. Other observers were just as enthused. “This has been a good test case,” said Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, who is in favor of the change. “And it looks good.”

A lot of hockey purists may not like the idea of 3-on-3 action in overtime, but it's certainly better than a shootout because the team component of the game is still important.

One of the reasons why the league is unlikely to eliminate the shootout entirely is because it provides so much late-game excitement and allows the sport's most skilled players to show off their amazing talents in a high-pressure spot.

With that said, an argument could be made that a 3-on-3 overtime period, which would result in fast-paced, end-to-end action with lots of scoring chances, would be even more thrilling than a shootout.

Penalties would be interesting in a 3-on-3 format because going down to two skaters isn't an option. One possibility is adding a player to the team that drew a penalty, so instead of a 3-on-2 power-play, it would become a 4-on-3 situation.

Overall, anything to lessen the amount of shootouts would be good for the sport. Since the current overtime format was adopted, more than 10 percent of regular-season games have ended with a shootout.

Adding another overtime period, whether it's 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 action, would likely have a huge impact on the number of shootouts played each season. Too often we see teams play boring, conservative hockey in the final minutes of regulation and overtime to take their chances in the shootout. With two overtime periods instead of one, clubs would have more incentive to score goals and play more aggressively.

One of the league's worst nightmares is a playoff spot being decided by a shootout, and that's exactly what happened on the final day of the 2009-10 season when the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers played a scoreless overtime. The Flyers won the shootout, earned a postseason berth and came within two wins of a Stanley Cup title.

But determining something as serious as a playoff spot should never involve a shootout.

Unfortunately, shootouts don't seem to be going away anytime soon. That's why the next best outcome for fans is to see another period of overtime before a skills competition determines which team gets another tally in the win column.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.