The NHL Goes Back To The Pond: How Do We Feel About 3-On-3?

National Hockey League general managers gathered this week in Boca Raton, Florida, to discuss the state of the NHL, including possible changes to improve the game. At the forefront of those discussions is the shootout. Most everyone involved with the league dislikes it as do a growing number of fans. Now it seems likely that a new overtime format will be proposed to limit the number of shootouts — or remove them altogether. The GMs offered support for a 3-on-3 portion of OT. Whether that encompasses the whole five minutes of the extra period or extends it is yet to be seen (the minor league AHL plays three minutes 4-on-4 and goes to 3-on-3 following the first whistle after that point).

Before the vote goes to the NHLPA, the venerable Reverend Paul Revere and Dillon Friday share their opinions on the pending change.

Bring Back The Ties

In case you hadn't heard, the NHL is toying with the idea of moving toward a 3-on-3 format for its regular-season overtime in order to reduce the number of games decided by shootout. This is stupid idea, just as it was, is and always will be a stupid idea to have shootouts decide the outcome of games.

I understand that no one likes ties. We want to see a winner declared in our sporting events, not a stalemate after 60-65 minutes of play. But there's a difference between suffering through a tie and fundamentally changing the way a game is played.

The NHL has already tinkered with removing players from the ice. Partly due to a desire to open up the game, in regular-season overtimes teams play with just four skaters as opposed to the normal five. Now the league wants to move to 3-on-3. And if that doesn't work, why not move down to 2-on-2? Or what about a shootout!?! Oh wait…

There is a vast difference between playing 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 to the point in which the game simply is not same, just as a 3-on-3 game of basketball, while fun, isn't used in the NBA to decide games because it becomes a different contest then. In fact, none of the other major sports decides to change the number of players on the field just to liven up overtime. The NFL doesn't play 7-on-7 in overtime. Baseball doesn't take away a couple fielders in extra innings. And even soccer doesn't go to 8-on-8 in extra time. Players are only sent off with red cards or two yellows.

Hockey is meant to be played 5-on-5 (skaters, that is). It's the very basis of the sport. Tinkering with rules to improve the game will always happen, but reducing the numbers of players alters the foundation of the game. Removing one skater from each side was bad enough, but taking away two players aside turns NHL hockey into something completely different.

I understand that players like it. I understand that fans may get excited over this. But I just can't get on board. Is it better than the shootout deciding games? Sure. But that doesn't mean it's best. Two wrongs don't make a right — they make for a different game entirely.

My solution? Bring back ties. Yes, I hate them, just like I hate neckties, but I'm a traditionalist at heart. Go back to ties, remove the automatic one point for reaching overtime (no team that loses should be rewarded with a point) and bring back hockey that actually resulted in full games of real hockey. -The Rev

More Space = Better Hockey. Also, Shootouts Are Terrible

I don't think any sport should pander to fans for the purpose of entertainment. Anytime the powers-that-be in football, baseball, soccer, basketball or hockey suggest changes that emphasize more offense, it compromises the competitiveness of the games themselves and tells us what we all should know: The dollar sign rules.

The NHL's shootout might be the most egregious example. It was introduced to end ties and spark interest for a fan base that just suffered through a lost season. Cool? Maybe at first. But it took away the incentive for teams to go for a win in overtime. Consider the St. Louis Blues, currently best in the league with 95 points. They've posted a staggering 18-6 shootout record over the last two seasons (having T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko helps). In the same time frame, the Blues have gone 7-6 in OT.

I won't say that St. Louis plays for the shootout, but coach Ken Hitchcock doesn't mind getting there unlike, say, the Philadelphia Flyers (6-17 in shootouts over the last two seasons).

Maybe I'm straying from the topic here, and I think the Rev and I can both agree that the shootout is among the worst gimmicks in sports. Where I disagree is that 3-on-3, or 4-on-4 for that matter, is not real hockey. Both scenarios can play out during regulation and often offer the most exciting stretches of game play. Skill players who usually face tight checking and unfavorable defensive matchups suddenly get the space they crave. They love it. The fans love it. It makes for a better, more watchable game, and most importantly leads to fewer shootouts.

I understand that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with ties. The teams play regulation, and if no one wins, so be it. Soccer has them, and it's the most popular sport in the world.

But if the NHL wants to remain as tieless as Rev on casual Friday, and I think it does, then an extended overtime with reduced lineups is the best option for all. - Dillon Friday

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