By Adam Brady
NHL hockey has existed for nearly 100 years, but one thing the league still hasn’t quite figured out is the best way to end its games.
Back in 2005, coming out of a season-long labor stoppage and looking to make the game even more fan-friendly, the NHL introduced the shootout to decide games still tied after the five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime. It was a fan-friendly solution that eliminated games ending in ties, though it hasn't t necessarily been embraced by players and coaches.
This past summer the league instituted another change. Regular season games tied at the end of regulation will now go to a 3-on-3 overtime format – rather than the previous 4-on-4 – and if games remain tied, they will still be decided in the shootout. But with the increased ice space and scoring chances in 3-on-3, it's likely the shootout will be needed much less frequently than it was in the past.
“I think you’re gonna see a lot of games end that way, instead of a shootout," said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who has worked with teammates on 3-on-3 situations nearly every day in training camp. “Even in the practice we’ve had for it , there have been a lot of scoring chances. There are positives in that, and it let us be creative in a different way other than the shootout.”
The American Hockey League introduced a similar format last season, extending overtime to seven minutes and starting with 4-on-4 before eventually switching to 3-on-3 if there were no goals scored through the first three minutes of OT. As a result, 75 percent of AHL games that were tied through regulation were decided in overtime (up from 35.3 percent the previous season, when they played 4-on-4 the entire way.) The NHL had 44.4 percent of games tied after regulation decided in overtime last season (136 of 306) in a 4-on-4 format.
|“I think you’re gonna see a lot of games end that way, instead of a shootout. Even in the practice we’ve had for it , there have been a lot of scoring chances. There are positives in that, and it let us be creative in a different way. I think it’s gonna bring a lot of excitement, for sure.” |
The NHL Competition Committee considered the same format as the AHL before ultimately deciding to keep overtime at five minutes and go with 3-on-3 for the entirety.
The league has designated certain games this preseason to go to a 3-on-3 overtime, regardless of whether games were tied through regulation, as a way to showcase it early to fans. (They did something similar in the preseason when the shootout was introduced) Through Thursday night, 13 preseason games actually required overtime and seven of those were decided in 2:05 or less. Only three of the 13 required a shootout (including both overtime games last night).
One of those quick finishers was last Tuesday’s Ducks game in Colorado, which the Avs won on an Alex Tanguay goal just 1:18 into OT. Young Anaheim center Chris Wagner missed the net on a premium scoring opportunity and watched the Avs take the puck the other way and pot the game-winner seconds later. Still, Wagner sees the value in the format.
“I think it’s fun. It’s a lot more chances than 4-on-4,” Wagner said. “It’s definitely hard to defend, like you saw in Colorado, and it’s all about possession. I had a good chance and I missed, and they went down and scored. So, it’s pretty bang-bang, but I think it’s good for the game.”
Wagner spent a portion of last season in the AHL, so he was part of the overtime experiment in that league. He prefers sticking to one format rather than changing part-way through the extra session. “It’s kind of tough to switch mid-overtime,” he said, “so I’d rather they just stick with wither 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 the whole way.”
Teams will undoubtedly experiment with personnel in this format, some electing to go with three forwards rather than icing two forwards and a defenseman. Most likelty when there is a defenseman on the ice, it will be an offensive-minded one like Fowler or fellow Ducks d-man Sami Vatanen.
“That’s a little bit my style,” Fowler said. “You can be creative as a d-man and contribute offensively. I think with the back end we have and the type of players we have, it will be good for us. But I’m sure a lot of other teams feel that way too.”
Of course, 3-on-3 is a decidedly different brand of hockey than what is played for most of the game, but it is a preferable alternative to deciding games in what ultimately is a skills competition.
“The shootout is exciting for the fans, and obviously we want to be accommodating to them, but I think they’re going to be surprised by the action they see in 3-on-3,” Fowler said. “There will be a lot of scoring chances, a lot of odd-man rushes and you’re probably going to see a few breakaways. There is a lot of excitement in that."
Fowler is among those who prefer games get decided in a team-oriented setting that more closely resembles the 60 minutes of regulation.
“As players, it’s tough sometimes when you battle so hard throughout a game and you have to lose a point in a shootout," says Fowler, who only has three shootout attempts in his career. "And if you’re a player who didn’t go in the shootout, it feels out of your control. This way more guys get involved. I think it’s gonna bring a lot of excitement, for sure.”