3 on 3 Overtime: Thoughts, Winners and Losers

The NHL instituted the coaches challenge and the new 3 on 3 overtime format this year.  By most accounts, it seems that the latter was a very popular decision, even going as far as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly saying that he expects the new format to return next year. The 3 on 3 is popular with most coaches and players. I say most accounts because some goalies might not be too excited to give up more shots and goals, even though it doesn’t count against their statistics.

While there is something to be said for the fun and flair of the shootout, the overtime has now become just as entertaining. Obviously, the shootout is just a breakaway pitting player against goaltender, but the great thing about the 3 on 3 is that there are still lots of breakaways along with everything else - including penalties, giveaways, passing and rebounds.  That being said more games are being decided in overtime this year than in the shootout. Last year, using the 4 on 4 format, after 740 games there were 186 games that went into overtime and only 84 ended there, that’s 45.2% of games. This year, in the new 3 on 3 format, 171 games have gone to overtime so far and 109, or 63.7%, were decided before the shootout.

As previously mentioned, with more games being decided in overtime so far this year, there will be some teams that will embrace the 3 on 3 format more than others. The Chicago Blackhawks are at the top of the list, and understandably so because they are one of the top teams in the league. However, they also have extremely talented open ice players which is key in the new overtime. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith all play very fast and very effectively in the open ice. This is key (as well as a good goaltender obviously) for success in overtime.  Other teams that are winning in overtime use these same principles. Teams like the Calgary Flames who have 8 overtime wins are using Sean Monahan and one-man-overtime-wrecking-crew Johnny Gaudreau in similar capacities on the open ice.

On the other end of the spectrum we have teams like Columbus, Toronto and Anaheim. Anaheim is a talented team that is in a scoring drought right now and they do have talented players such as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler but they aren’t as dynamic. With bigger, slower players they cannot use the open ice in the way that other teams capitalize on. The same goes for Columbus and Toronto, however these two teams are at the bottom of the NHL standings as well.

The NHL’s new 3 on 3 overtime experiment seems to be passing with flying colors. The players get to stretch their legs and their passes to create lots of scoring chances.  If the format stays this way, and it looks like it will, then some teams may have to re-tool their roster to allow for faster, more offense-driven, skilled players.  For the fans, they get exciting end to end rushes, big saves and if no one scores, they still get the great entertainment of a shootout. Most players and coaches love the 3 on 3 overtime format, but let’s face it, the fans love it and that’s what it’s all about.