When the 2015-16 NHL regular season begins in just a few months, Nashville Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette, as well as the 29 other bench bosses around the League, will have some decisions to make.
There will be rosters to fill out, systems to implement and a slew of other elements to instill prior to the first puck drop in October. But when a game remains tied after 60 minutes of regulation, those coaches will then have to deal with something they’ve never dealt with at the NHL level before – a 3-on-3 overtime period.
Approved by the NHL Board of Governors back in June, the overtime modification is one of a small collection of rule changes made for the upcoming campaign, but will perhaps present the greatest challenge. A 200-by-85 foot sheet of ice presents plenty of room to maneuver with just six skaters in total. One mistake could easily be the difference between one and two points in the standings.
“We’ll probably be learning on the fly a little bit as we go and all of it presents new challenges,” Laviolette said of the overtime change. “Any time rule changes come into play, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to handle those rules changes, how you’re going to address them with your team and if there are any advantages you can take from that.”
The Predators may in fact have an advantage in a 3-on-3 setting. As Preds broadcaster Stu Grimson outlined in his blog earlier this month, Nashville possesses a good mix of speed and skill on the roster, elements that will be key in the new format.
Although the change will bring about uncharted territory at the NHL level, Laviolette and his staff have options to turn to for advice. Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, dealt with 3-on-3 overtime last season as part of the AHL’s rule tweaks. With the change, overtime in the AHL began at 4-on-4, then went to 3-on-3 after four minutes of play.
The Admirals saw 25 of their 76 games require overtime last season, so Ads Head Coach Dean Evason had plenty of experience with the new format. Evason said the club almost exclusively played with two forwards and a defenseman in a 3-on-3 situation, trying to rotate players in and out as much as possible.
“Our philosophy in Milwaukee was to keep the players as fresh as we possibly could,” Evason said “If you’re tired in 3-on-3, the ice surface is so big, and you get exposed very quickly. Even if you don’t have quite the skill level of the other guy that you’re playing against, if you’re not fatigued or he’s more fatigued than you, you’re going to have success against them.”
Evason and his staff were of the belief over the course of the season that oftentimes, fresh legs provided more of an advantage than the most skilled player on the ice shift after shift.
“We tried to play as many people as we could in those situations,” Evason said. “Obviously you want skilled people on the ice to try and score goals, but if they’re fresh, we feel it’s a better situation.”
Evason and Laviolette both acknowledged they’ll likely discuss strategy when it comes to what the Preds will do in the extra frame before next season commences. In the meantime, there will be plenty of options to consider.
Two forwards and one defenseman? One forward and two blueliners? The Preds certainly have the skill up front in Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro, just to name a few. On the backend, Shea Weber and Roman Josi are two of the defensemen who can not only keep the opposition off the board, they can also join the rush and contribute on the offensive attack.
Considering an even more recent example, the Preds Development Camp Scrimmage last Saturday included a 3-on-3 session, and there was plenty of ice to be had. Kevin Fiala scored just seconds after the opening draw, and chances were traded back and forth with regularity.
Time will tell as to how teams adapt to the change, but the Preds have to like their chances even before their first shot at 3-on-3 OT.