I was at the usual pub (The Irish Channel in D.C.) on Thursday night following the Capitals/Lightning game, watching the San Jose Sharks and the Dallas Stars battle for their Western Conference Playoff lives with a number of hockey fans both die-hard and casual. The final four minutes of regulation saw the teams trade goals, including one after a video review; the 4-on-4 overtime was a doozy, producing eight shots combined. The crowd was buzzing.
Then the OT ended, and the shootout was next.
And the buzz died down.
I'm not going to make this the next evidential admission in my ever-expanding indictment of the shootout. I'll begrudgingly admit that the five-round exhibition between the Sharks and Stars had its surprises — Tommy Wingels, McLellan? — and thrills, like Kari Lehtonen stopping Logan Couture with the game on the line.
What it lacked, however, was the kinetic and chaotic thrill of team hockey that's on display in the 4-on-4. It can't match it; by design, it's a series of stops and starts, of increasing drama rather than consistent tension. Comparing it to the 4-on-4 is like comparing a college football game to a mosh pit.
Which is why any attempt to give us more of that sudden death team play is an admirable one; which is why we admire Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who will bring up the idea of a 3-on-3 overtime period following the 4-on-4 to the GMs at their meetings next week, in an attempt to double our pleasure and prevent games from reaching the skills competition. (Ed. Note: As Nick Cotsonika notes, Holland isn't going to formally place the item on the agenda.)
Holland, the architect behind the most successful NHL team of the past two decades, the Detroit Red Wings, will pitch a new/old concept that would see overtime periods extended to 10 minutes from five.
The twist? The second five-minute period would be played 3-on-3, in the hope games would be decided in a more conventional hockey environment, rather than in a shootout. Holland's thinking is that playing 3-on-3 would open up the ice so much that a goal would almost certainly be scored. On the rare occasions it didn't happen, the shootout would be the last-resort tiebreaker.
The 3-on-3 format has been tested at the NHL Research and Development Camp for the last two years. It was a revelation in 2010, receiving glowing reviews; in 2011, it was tested twice with inconsistent results. Here's the first session, featuring fatigued junior players, which paled in comparison to the other more thrilling session:
It's got a world of potential for use in the NHL, as Bourne chronicled for us last year. Odd-man rushes would be plentiful, as every shot off-target could be turned into a jailbreak the others way. Penalties would still be called, as one team would be given an extra man for two minutes (in theory). Those moments in the 4-on-4 when one team appears to be playing for a shootout would be nullified — it's simply impossible to sit on the puck for 5 minutes in a 3-on-3.
(In a perfect world, the NHL would abandon offside rules for the 3-on-3 as well, bringing to deliciously close to a that video game aesthetic we all secretly wish NHL offenses exhibited more often.)
Again, my cards are always on the table here: I don't like the shootout determining anything of consequence in the NHL regular season, and I've found it increasingly tedious and uneventful when compared to the 4-on-4. I'm in favor of any rules change that makes the shootout more interesting, and I'm certainly in favor of any rule that minimizes its impact or frequency.
But just as important: I'm in favor of seeing more sudden-death team hockey. Because it rules.