It was one of the many radical rule changes tested at the NHL research and development camp this week in Toronto, and to my surprise, several general managers seemed to at least be entertaining the idea of 3-on-3 play in overtime as a way to end more games before a shootout.
Shootouts themselves were tweaked a little bit in the camp, with some scrimmages going to five shooters aside, but for the most part, the talk from GMs was about limiting the number of them and their impact on the standings. Last season, there were a record number of shootouts, with just shy of 15 per cent of games being decided by the skills competition.
That's far too high in my mind, especially when all of those "bonus" points seem to be deciding playoff spots and positioning more and more.
On Friday, I had a great conversation on the subject with Shawn Mullin, who calls play-by-play for the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BCHL (Junior A). In that league, they've already adopted some 3-on-3 play in overtime, playing 4-on-4 for five minutes and then 3-on-3 for another five if the game is still scoreless.
As a result of dropping down to only six skaters on the ice, Mullin said it creates a high number off odd-man chances and scoring opportunities. Almost every single game is settled after 70 minutes of play.
So much so that there were only seven ties in 510 games played in the BCHL last season. (The league has yet to adopt the shootout.)
The BCHL is obviously a vastly different league than the NHL, including the fact that it's higher scoring (7.26 goals per game compared with 5.53), but the numbers for OT alone are interesting. Sixteen per cent of BCHL games went to extra time last season and more than 90 per cent of those were decided within the 10 minutes.
In the NHL last season, 24.5 per cent of games went to extra time and 60 per cent weren't decided after five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime.
"You never get a boring 3 on 3," Mullin said. "And I've seen some amazing game winning goals because of all the space."
There are plenty of clips on YouTube of 3-on-3 play in the BCHL for the curious ( here, here and here). It does strike me as a little gimmicky, but it's less so than the shootout itself. I definitely support going to 10-minute overtime periods as a starting point, as the NHL simply has too many games being decided by shootout these days.
If adding the extra five minutes doesn't solve the problem, it might be time to bring in 3-on-3.