Over time, the shootout has lost its luster, not only as the gimmick has become mundane and predictable but as general managers around the NHL decry its fairness as a means to determine a game's winner.
Ken Holland, general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, has been a vocal advocate for changes to overtime that reduce the need for shootouts. One idea was to institute a potentially chaotic 3-on-3 after the 4-on-4, an idea that’s been passed over by his peers for years.
The American Hockey League, meanwhile, decided to be more proactive this season. The incubator for many NHL rules changes, the AHL decided to try out the 3-on-3 overtime without the NHL being the catalyst for the test.
The AHL format is seven minutes: 4-on-4 for at least three minutes, then 3-on-3 for the remainder beginning at the next stoppage. The results so far? The shootout’s frequency and influence has been dramatically decreased.
Through Monday’s action, there have been 179 total games played. Thirty-six have gone to overtime, or 20.1 percent.
Of those 36 games, just six have gone to a shootout, or 16.7 percent.
Here’s how dramatic the decline’s been so far: Last year, 64.7 percent of all overtime games in the AHL went to a shootout. That’s 178 of 275 of overtime games.
But has the 3-on-3 overtime been an influence?
The number of overtime games is still on track. Every year since 2001-02, the AHL has had between 21 and 24 percent of all of its games going to overtime, so despite the slight down-click, there’s no change there.
Of the 36 OT games this season, 16 have been decided in the 4-on-4 and 14 have been decided in the 3-on-3.
Let’s be generous and say that every game that ended in the 3-on-3 went to a shootout. Combining the two categories, we’d have 55.6 percent of AHL overtime games going to the shootout – statistically closer to last year’s total.
So in theory, the 3-on-3 has gobbled up a chunk of the games that would have gone to a shootout. In theory.
There are still legitimate concerns about the 3-on-3 overtime and the way teams, in the long-haul, will approach them strategically (i.e. playing more conservatively to protect against mistakes). But having 14 of 36 OT games (38.9 percent) ending in the 3-on-3 tells us that it’s producing goals, which is good.
In a typical NHL game, teams generate roughly 2.4 goals and 29 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. That rises to 2.8 and 32 shots per 60 minutes if you go to 4-on-4.
But 3-on-3 is a whole new animal. Teams have put up more than 60 shots and scored more than eight goals per 60 minutes, with all the odd-man rushes and chaos proving great fun for everyone but the coaches.
The quality of chances is so high that the average shooting percentage at 3-on-3 is more than 13 per cent, way up from the 8 per cent average at 5-on-5.
Kudos to Dave Andrews and the AHL for trying something new. It’s early, but it appears the AHL has lit the way for the NHL to overcome its shootout addiction. Because friends don’t let friends end games without a pass being attempted.