With the start of the NHL season just 13 days away there’s a lot to be excited about. One thing in particular is the new way regular season overtime will be played. As we wrote about earlier this summer the NHL is adopting a new overtime format for the upcoming season. Instead of the old 5 minute 4-on-4 overtime followed by a shootout if it were still tied, the league will now play 3-on-3 before going to a shootout if needed. The thought process is that with four less players total on the ice, combined with the current increased speed of the game, real “hockey plays” will decide the winner more frequently than the often criticized “individual skills competition” that is the shootout.
As the current NHL preseason carries on the league is mandating select games play a 3-on-3 overtime at the end of regulation regardless of the score in order to gather data and observe it’s effectiveness. So far enough teams have already gone to overtime naturally to prove it is going to be the best thing to happen to the NHL in a long, long time. It’s going to be electric.
As of now in the preseason 11 games have gone to overtime. With the new 3-on-3 format in place only one game has gone to a shootout. One game. Of the other 10 games that were decided 3-on-3, seven of them only lasted about 2 minutes or less. The Bruins won Tuesday night just 12 seconds into 3-on-3 overtime. This is phenomenal. There is just too much space and too much talent on the ice to not create ridiculous amounts of offense. And the worlds best players from each team get to create “Super Lines” of three forwards, or one forward, or two forwards… take you pick of combinations. Fans are going to be wildly entertained. We’ve already broken down the scariest combos teams could put on the ice this year.
One thing I really like about 3-on-3 overtime that hasn’t been mentioned is that it creates more balance in the league. Even if you are a bottom-dwelling last place team you’re still an NHL team. You still have 4-6 guys on your roster that can play for anybody. So if you’re, say, first place Tampa Bay and you’re scrapping with a last place Carolina on a Tuesday night in November, you better put them away in regulation. Because even though Carolina isn’t nearly as deep as Tampa Bay, they can throw the Staal’s and Kris Versteeg out there for overtime and rob you of precious points. It’s the NBA Jam of NHL hockey. Your best versus their best with tons of room to get it done. It’s also not gimmicky like a shootout. We see 4-on-3 power plays regularly in the NHL. Going to 3-on-3 isn’t a stretch yet it keeps the integrity of a team sport in tact. It keeps it a team game.
The new 3-on-3 format is essentially the same concept that makes Olympic hockey so fun to watch. Olympic hockey is so special because it’s the best players in the world on bigger internationally regulated ice surfaces. More room for speed, more room for skill, more room gives talent space to breathe. Since NHL ice surfaces are smaller than Olympic rinks, the NHL just takes players off the ice for overtime to create the same type of open environment. Again, it’s electric.
I can’t wait to see this format unfold this season. It’s already been so impressive just in preseason games. It puts the shootout in it’s rightful place, making it the last resort if needed rather than the standard finisher. Yes, shootouts can be exciting yet we always feel a little cheated when a game ends that way. By as early as November this season we’ll all be wondering why we haven’t had 3-on-3 overtime all along.