NHL GMs approve 3-on-3 overtime, but what format?

NHL GMs approve 3-on-3 overtime, but what format?

BOCA RATON, Fla. – The NHL’s general managers have recommended 3-on-3 overtime in an effort to reduce shootouts. 

The question now is which of two ideas to use: five minutes of 3-on-3 or the American Hockey League format. Starting this season, the AHL went to seven minutes of OT – 4-on-4 until the first whistle after the three-minute mark, then 3-on-3.

The GMs will discuss it with their coaches and players. The competition committee, which includes representatives from the NHL Players’ Association, will discuss it. Ultimately rule changes must be approved by the NHL Board of Governors.

If all the hurdles are cleared, the NHL could have 3-on-3 OT as soon as next season.

“We’re trying to make a move to a format that we think is going to decide more games in overtime,” said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who has been pushing for overtime reform for a long time. “We’re not looking to eliminate shootout. We think the fans like the shootout. But we think the fans will enjoy 3-on-3.”

The NHL introduced 4-on-4 overtime in 1999-2000. It introduced the shootout in 2005-06, eliminating ties. That season, 11.79 percent of games ended in a shootout. Every season since, the percentage has been higher. This season, it’s 14.12.

Though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is a big supporter of the shootout – and he often says market research shows the fans love it – there has been a growing sentiment among GMs to deemphasize it because too many games are being decided with a skills competition instead of some form of actual hockey.

This season, the NHL introduced the dry scrape before OT to improve ice quality and the long change to make defense more difficult. But it scrapped the dry scrape in November because it took too long, and the long change has not had a dramatic effect.

Meanwhile, the AHL format has achieved the desired results, according to data provided by Jason Chaimovitch, the AHL’s vice president of communications. Through Sunday, about the same amount of games have ended in regulation (75.9 percent last season, 75.7 percent this season), but far less have ended in a shootout (15.6 last season, 5.7 this season).

Out of 171 OT goals, 98 have been scored during 4-on-4 time, 73 during 3-on-3 time. Those numbers include special-teams goals based on original manpower. In terms of actual manpower, 80 goals have been scored 4-on-4, 67 3-on-3 and 21 4-on-3. Three have been scored on penalty shots.

Fewer players means less coaching. More ice means more speed and skill. It remains to be seen, though, how it will look in the NHL.

“You’re dealing with more experienced players, much more talented players, coaches which may come up with different sort of plans,” said Colin Campbell, NHL senior vice president of hockey operations.

In the AHL, most coaches have used two forwards and one defenseman. Some have used three forwards. But Campbell said: “I think you’re going to see a lot different results and different ways games are played than we see in the American Hockey League.”

Some NHL GMs would prefer not to go straight from 5-on-5 to 3-on-3.

“It’s a team game,” said Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon. “I would like to get more players involved. If you go right to 3-on-3, you are going to eliminate half of your bench. Six or seven guys aren’t going to get any action.”

But going straight to 3-on-3 would solve two problems with the AHL format: More overtime puts more stress on top players. Sometimes there isn’t a whistle for a while after the three-minute mark, leaving little to no 3-on-3 time.

Holland said the Swedish Elite League went to five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime during this season and saw a dramatic decrease in shootouts. Holland said he called his fellow GMs before the meeting to get their thoughts, and the Calgary Flames’ Brad Treliving brought up the idea of five minutes of 3-on-3.

“At the end of the day, we’re happy as a group here going either way,” Holland said. “We think both are good solutions. Now we’ll go to the competition committee. That’s the recommendation of the general managers’ group, that we make a change and we’ve got a couple of changes to consider and we’re happy with either change.”