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NHL Shootouts: GMs Should Elect the AHL's 3-on-3 Format

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The NHL GMs have their annual meetings this week to discuss possible rule changes, and the biggest rule on the table is the rule that some of us have started calling the Ken Holland Rule - the rule that aims to settle more games in OT, resulting in fewer shootouts. This rule will be the headliner of this week's discussions, which means there's at least an outside chance we could see the rule as soon as next year in the NHL.

The AHL has served as the guinea pig for the Ken Holland Rule this year, and by most standards it's been a rousing success. AHL overtime now consists of 7 minutes of OT, and play shifts from 4v4 to 3v3 with the first whistle after 3 minutes of play prior to a shootout if necessary. OT games this year in the AHL are now decided before the shootout roughly 3 times more often. Here's how OT games in the AHL broke down last year prior to the change:

AHL 2013-2014 Percentage
Games that go to OT 24.12%
Games that go to SO 15.61%
OT games that go to SO 64.73%

Compare that to this year's AHL numbers:

AHL 2014-2015 Percentage
Games that go to OT 24.3%
Games that go to SO 5.75%
OT games that go to SO 23.66%

Last year in the AHL if a game went to OT, there was only a 1 in 3 chance that you were going to see a game-winner prior to the shootout. This year, you have a 3 in 4 chance. In the interest of transparency, I wouldn't classify myself as a shootout hater necessarily. Gun to my head, I prefer it over ties, which is enough to get me labeled Not A True Fan by some hockey purists. On top of that, I also think there's a real argument to be made that 3v3 hockey is just about as gimmicky as shootouts. All that said, I definitely can't deny that the OT period itself is far more exciting than a generally anti-climactic shootout, and so I'm all for de-emphasizing the shootout if possible. If these numbers held up in the NHL, that means if you watched every single Red Wings game, you would expect to see roughly 5 shootouts over the course of the season. I think that's clearly a step in the right direction. For fun, here are the same numbers for this current NHL season:

NHL 2014-2015 Percentage
Games that go to OT 24.7%
Games that go to SO 14.6%
OT games that go to SO 57%

This is pretty similar to the 2013-2014 AHL season across the board. There have been 1,037 NHL games so far this season, and there were 1,140 AHL games last season, so we've got really similar sample sizes here. The AHL actually had even more OT/shootouts than the NHL has had, so it seems reasonable to project the NHL could cut shootouts down to the same frequency the AHL is now experiencing. AHL teams have all played roughly 60 games this season, and no team has had more than 7 shootouts. After roughly 70 NHL games, 27/30 teams have had at least 7 shootouts.

To give a better comparison, the Grand Rapids Griffins have had just 4 shootouts all year, going 2-2. Detroit's has 12 shootouts, frustratingly going 3-9 despite having above-average skill to work with. With 14 games to go, it seems likely that 2-3 more shootouts are coming, so around 15 seems likely. The AHL's numbers this year seems to suggest we could drop the shootouts down to around 5 per season, and that seems like an improvement worth pursuing.

One of the common objections is the additional wear and tear this would cause on our star players, who inevitably would be the players chosen to play in these extra 2 minutes. This seems like a silly objection to me. We're talking about 2 extra minutes per OT game. Currently we have 5 minutes of 4v4, which is equal to 20 minutes of skater time per team. If we assume 4 minutes of 4v4 and 3 minutes of 3v3, that's equivalent to 25 minutes of skater time per team. There's no way 3 players are doing a 2 minute shift - more like 6 or 9 players. If we shoot conservative and assume 6, we're talking about your absolute best player getting an extra minute of ice time once every 4 games, and your above-average players (like a Tatar or DeKeyser) getting less than that. That's an incredibly small amount, and you can easily offset that amount by strategically giving your weaker players a couple extra minutes here and there over the course of the season. This objection seems like a bad reason to not go ahead with this rule, and I think it's far more likely the NHLPA is just throwing it out there in the interest of using it as a bargaining chip.

Given all this, I think the Ken Holland Rule makes a lot of sense for the NHL and ought to be adopted immediately. What do you think? Do you think the NHL should adopt the AHL rule, or do you think 3v3 hockey sounds just as gimmicky as the shootout? Poll and comments are below as usual.