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The NHL Is Getting 3 On 3 Overtime

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"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling ho-
And whether pigs have wings."

The time has also come to talk of the NHL changing it's overtime format to reduce the number of games that are tragically decided in the shootout. For years Ken Holland has been lobbying to use 3on3 overtime as a way to reduce the number of games that go to a shootout, and for years he's lacked the support necessary... Until now, that is. While the details still have to be worked out and the NHL Players Association has to sign off, the General Managers have officially proposed  3on3 overtime in the the NHL regular season for next year. We don't know exactly what the new overtime format will be, but there are 2 options currently being talked about.

  1. Adopting the current AHL overtime format of a 7 minute overtime with 3 minutes of 4on4, then after the 1st whistle after the 3 minute mark, switching to 3on3 for the remainder of overtime. If the game isn't decided after that, the game will go to a shootout.
  2. Leave the overtime length at 5 minutes and skip the 4on4 and go right to 3on3.

The goal is to reduce the number of games going to a shootout, because shootouts are dumb and they suck. The addition of 7 minutes of overtime and 3on3 has reduced the total number of games decided in a shootout from 15.6% to 5.7% in the AHL,  and reduced the number of OT games that go to a shootout from 64.7% to 23.7%. Check out this handy AHL infographic for more details. Percentage wise, the NHL and pre 3on3 AHL were very similar in the number of games that went to a shootout, so it's reasonable to expect a similar reduction in the number of shootouts when the NHL adopts 3on3 overtime as well.

If a penalty is called while 3on3, the team on the powerplay gets to bring another player out onto the ice and have a 4on3 or a 5on3, as is currently the rule, no team can have fewer than 3 men on the ice at a time, regardless of penalties. The team with the man advantage remains with the man advantage until the first whistle after the expiration of the penalty.

While the reduction in shootouts in the AHL this season has been a combination of the extra 2 minutes of OT and the addition of 3on3, even if the NHL chooses to go with a 5 minute 3on3, there will still be a reduction in the number of games that make it to a shootout. Going to the AHL 7 minute format would be the more complicate choice because of the whistle variable. What happens when there is no whistle after the 3 minute mark, so some teams don't play 3on3? Is it fair for some teams to play 4 minutes of 3on3 while others play less or none at all? Choosing this method would open the door for a lot of argument and unhappiness among teams, players, and coaches, and I think the league would be better off having a uniform 5 minutes of 3on3 so it's as fair and even as possible.

David Andrews, President and CEO of the AHL was on Hockey Central @ Noon (his interview starts about the 35 minute mark) and while some detractors from the new format say they're concerned about increasing ice time and fatigue for the players, Andrews said the average time for a game has only increased by 6 seconds.

I've watched the new OT format in the AHL all season, as well as in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and I like it a lot. It's exciting because there's so much more space for players to do something spectacular, or to make colossal mistakes, and anything can happen. Overtime is exciting and 3on3 overtime is sometimes even more exciting. Going to a shootout after a thrilling overtime is such a letdown, and we're often left feeling that neither team deserves to lose in the skills competition. The NHL can significantly reduce the number of games that go to a shootout while keeping and even increasing the excitement of overtime. Full speed ahead!