At the NHL General Managers’ meetings in Las Vegas yesterday, it was voted that, coming next season, 3-on-3 overtime be adopted. 4-on-4 would be a thing of the past, as the National Hockey League Players’ Association scored a major victory, refusing to adopt the hybrid model overtime used in the AHL, where 4-on-4 was played until the first whistle after the 3 minute mark of OT, then 3-on-3 for another 4 minutes.
The NHLPA contended that the players would be more susceptible to injury with the 3-4 model, so the NHL GMs, desperate to have more games decided in overtime, agreed.
Coming out of the first NHL lockout in 2004-2005, the league decided to implement a shootout after 5 minutes of 4-on 4 overtime to have a winner decided for every game. At the time, everyone was abuzz, as the penalty shot/shootout is “the most exciting play in hockey”. It was a novel idea, that fans enjoyed for the first little while, but after the first couple of seasons, fans grew tired of it.
Now, the league and players’ union are going to 3-on-3 to avoid the shootout more often. the USHL adopted the same model last season, and saw a modest 10% change in games decided in OT. The AHL, which used the hybrid 3-4 model, saw its numbers drop from 66% of games going to a shootout to under 25%, a change of over 40%. The change in the AHL, however, was more evident early in the season, and as the teams adapted, the numbers flatlined.
The league and the union can tinker all they want with overtime formats and rules, but until they can figure out a way to eliminate defensive-oriented hockey from the game, scoring will continue to remain low.
No matter the rule changes, coaches have been notorious for adapting the “trap” in game situations. With the removal of the 2-line offside after 2004-2005, some teams began using their own blue line as their defensive front, with a single forechecker in the neutral zone and stacking the remaining 4 players to quell zone entries. Others, who carry more offensively gifted, quick and skilled players among the forwards would play a 2-3 stack, but the logic was still the same. If you force your opponent to relinquish the puck on zone entry, you’ve already won half the battle.
I have no doubt that after an initial upturn in overtime scoring, the same adaptation will take place. Coaches work tirelessly analyzing video and creating strategies to reduce scoring chances. 3-on-3 overtime will be no different.
So what can be done to change the coaching fraternity’s thought process to encourage more scoring? Rules can be created until people are blue in the face, but those are only temporary measures. The best way to get coaches and teams away from sitting back in a defensive shell is to reward them properly for playing an offensive game. That can only happen through an adjustment of the points system.
The system would be fairly simple:
– 3 points to the team that wins in regulation time.
– 2 points to the winner in overtime, and a single point to the losing team.
– 1 point to the winner in a shootout, and NOTHING awarded to the losing team.
Simple logic dictates that teams that know they can end up with nothing in the coffers after over 65 minutes of play will play a more aggressive, offensively minded style to ensure they maximize the possibility of getting points in regular season games. It would also guarantee the effort and integrity of the 3-on-3 overtime, ensuring teams remain aggressive to avoid the chance of ending games empty-handed.
More points being rewarded would also ensure that teams place a higher importance on their specialty teams. Along with an expected increase in offensive aggressiveness at even-strength, the man-advantage would once again become a major factor in team success, especially for teams that don’t have the offensive firepower to dominate 5-on-5.
If teams didn’t play a point-rewarding style, it would mean missing the playoffs more often and, ultimately, coaching changes to hire staffs with more offensively minded people.
Coaches always say it’s the end result that matters. Well, if success is measured by playoff appearances, then rewarding them that produce more offence is the ideal scenario.
And the silver lining:
With more offensive hockey throughout the regular season, can you imagine a scenario where teams revert back to a defensive shell after a full regular season of pushing the pace?