Common ground is a tough thing to locate for the NHL Players' Association and the NHL’s owners and general managers. We’ve witnessed annual battles over the salary cap and equipment size. We’ve lost an entire season, and parts of others, because of their inability to agree on … well, anything.
Well, turns out they can agree on one thing: The shootout, and how they want to reduce its influence over playoff qualification and seeding.
They understand the NHL sees it as an entertaining gimmick that puts an artificial cap on a game’s length for the sake of television in the regular season; they just don’t want to see that gimmick as anything but a last resort when deciding who wins the game (or, in the NHL, gets the extra point in the standings).
Even after the NHL Competition Committee punted on the debate earlier this month, it was clear there was an appetite for a 3-on-3 overtime format for next season, which has the potential to be brilliant: The highlight-reel skill of the shootout blended with actual hockey things like passing and skaters playing defense whose absence from the shootout cement it as a vapid gimmick.
Not only that, but a proven way to reduced the number of shootouts we have to witness per season. The American Hockey League tested three minutes (or so) of 4-on-4 overtime followed by 3-on-3 the rest of the way last season and saw 75 percent of its overtime game end before the shootout, compared to 35.3 percent in the previous season.
(While there might be a hue and cry of “SAMPLE SIZE” after only one season under the microscope, it wouldn’t be the first rules change adopted by the NHL after being pulled from the AHL incubator after a year.)
Logic would dictate the NHL would adopt this format, right?
“Wrong,” said the NHLPA. And the League’s general managers, for some reason, capitulated.
So rather than seven minutes of overtime like the AHL had, we have five minutes of 3-on-3 and no 4-on-4.
The NHLPA balked at the extra two minutes of play, which breaks down to roughly two extra shifts (if that) for players, albeit in an end-of-game track meet. The PA has been steadfast in guarding against “wear and tear” for its players, despite having marathon overtimes in the playoffs and agreeing to participate in a preseason international tournament in 2016.
This overtime decision by the PA is rather baffling on a few levels:
1. 4-on-4 OT is awesome.
They’re fixing the thing that ain’t broke.
Four-on-four OT is exhilarating, unpredictable and fun as hell. It’s a gimmick that never felt like one, unlike 3-on-3, which is simply a less despicable gimmick than the shootout. There’s no reason to eliminate it from the NHL OT format.
Can 4-on-4 sometimes get bogged down in cautious play, as teams hold out for the shootout instead? Sure. But if you don’t think that’s going to be an issue with the 3-on-3, welp … maybe I’m just being pessimistic in thinking that coaches like Claude Julien and Darryl Sutter aren’t going to let slip the dogs of war when they have Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick for a shootout.
2. This Is Untested
What a weird turnaround for the NHLPA, which has previously sought plenty of R&D and hesitancy on things like visor rules to adopt an overtime format that hasn’t been used on any level of professional hockey.
3. If The Concern Is That Players Will Be Devastatingly Fatigued After Seven Minutes Of Overtime, Wouldn’t That Then Be At Least a Little Carrot To Not Play for the Tie In The Waning Minutes of Regulation?
Or, failing that: Just make regulation wins worth three points already…
Look, I’m thrilled we’re getting 3-on-3 overtime. I talked to, and read interviews with, enough players that tell me it’s going to be balls-to-the-wall bonkers instead of the tentative ‘let’s all try to not make a mistake’ cluster I’ve seen it be at times. And there’s no denying that the percentage decrease in AHL shootouts was directly correlated with the percentage of games decided in the 3-on-3.
Which is why I can’t comprehend the NHLPA leaping past that model directly into the 3-on-3 for five minutes, given that we know it’s successful.
But this was their hill to die on, and enough GMs desperately wanted the 3-on-3 (and to reduce shootouts) that they relented.
Hey, whatever works to diminish the skills competition…
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