Guess which failed experiment is ruining hockey
The NHL season is well underway with newly notable additions. Apart from the frenzy surrounding Connor McDavid, the NHL is causing some noise with their new 3-on-3 overtime format.
Since 1983, 4-on-4 overtime hockey had been the norm in the NHL, followed by the shoot out, which only became a staple of the game after the lockout of 2004-2005. The new 3-on-3 format will, theoretically, make hockey games shorter and more exciting. Only time will tell if this change will benefit the game, but, as the Calgary Flames general manager Brian Burke put it in an interview with Sportsnet, 3-on-3 hockey is “horse-shit.” I couldn’t agree more.
First, this over-time format was originally seen in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). Compared to North America, European hockey is much slower because the ice surface is much larger and the style of play is different (east-west system that utilizes longer passes, for example). Therefore, it’s a mistake to assume that 3-on-3 hockey will work as well as it does in the SHL.
Second, while 3-on-3 hockey promises to be entertaining and fast-paced, it also is not the hockey North America knows and loves. It’s the kind of activity you play for fun after a grueling practice; it reminds me of peewee hockey. Moreover, odd-man rushes aren’t going to be as exciting as we would expect. When they occur in the contexts of 5-on-5 or 4-on-4 hockey, they’re exciting because they’re unexpected. Unless the team can’t play defense to save their lives, odd-man rushes don’t occur that often. With 3-on-3 hockey, this kind of situation becomes the norm; it loses all its lustre.
Thirdly, teams are going to adapt, and some will even lower their level of play just to make it to a shootout. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to watch Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby rush down the ice at full speed and score a beauty, but the chances of that happening seem low. In a recent interview, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he is more likely to employ two defensemen and a forward in order to slow down the pace of the game, and bring it into a shoot out. Furthermore, a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins is also more likely to employ such a strategy because of their high level of skill to win in shootouts.
Finally, the NHL needs to look at the bigger picture. If generating more excitement is the main priority, they should focus on the full 60 minutes—the majority of the game. Get rid of the extra point during overtime and you have a whole different scenario. For example, the SHL employs a 3-2-1 point system. If the NHL used such a system, teams would be more willing to play intense and exciting hockey, and the problem would be solved.