For a few years now, like clockwork, someone writes about how 3-on-3 in overtime would be the greatest advancement in NHL history, like a pill that simultaneously cures impotence and baldness and tastes like waffles. “It would lead to more scoring, which means fewer games would be decided by a shootout, the worst thing to happen in the world since that pill that simultaneously causes impotence and baldness and tastes like feet.”

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has been a strong proponent for using 3-on-3 overtime for quite some time, and he put it on display at his prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich., this past weekend. Other GMs in attendance raved about the fast-paced 3-on-3 action, despite the fact that no one actually scored a goal.

This isn’t the first time 3-on-3 hockey has been examined; it was featured at the NHL’s Research, Development and Orientation camps in 2010 and 2011. The NHL wanted to be proactive and tested all kinds of rules in Toronto, but clearly everyone wants fewer games to be decided by a breakaway contest.

Here’s my problem with the entire concept of instituting 3-on-3 hockey in overtime in an effort to trim the number of games that go to shootouts – if everyone is aware that deciding games via a shootout is a bad idea, why isn’t the NHL and its GMs just, you know, abolishing the shootout altogether?

To say no one likes the shootout would be a lie – there are plenty of fans that enjoy it – but I don’t enjoy it so you’re going to get my slant on the issue. If the detractors of shootouts don’t like the fact a point is given away in what amounts to be a breakaway competition, why is a 2-on-1 competition or breakaway competition that is spawned out of a more gimmicky 3-on-3 overtime any better? Because that’s how the action is going to be driven most of the time at 3-on-3 – odd-man rushes and breakaways.

In Traverse City, from accounts of those in attendance, the teams traded chances off odd-man rushes but were unable to score. In the above video shot by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski at the 2011 RDO Camp, the only goal scored during the five-minute session came off a breakaway after a defensive mistake in the neutral zone. Somehow that breakaway is more acceptable than a shootout breakaway?

Based on the numbers over at that date to the 2007-08 season, there have been eight goals scored in about 61 minutes of 3-on-3 play over the past six seasons, which breaks down to about a goal every 7.6 minutes, about 2.6 minutes more than your standard NHL overtime and 4.6 minutes longer than the three-minute overtime Holland would like for 3-on-3. In the past three seasons, however, there has been just one goal in about 27 minutes of 3-on-3 action.

For all of the “fun” and “excitement” people claim 3-on-3 generates, it’s not generating all that many goals as is, and it’s sure to generate fewer goals once it is played with a shootout coming right after it.

Of course, there are more goals scored at 3-on-3 per minute than there are at 4-on-4 per minute. Over that same six-season span, there was one goal scored for about every 11 minutes of 4-on-4 ice time. But if the idea is to just have more goals scored during overtime to avoid shootouts, why not just play 2-on-2 or 1-on-1? Let’s have 2:30 of Sidney Crosby trying to beat Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask then 2:30 of Loui Eriksson attempting to get past Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury.

More goals don’t necessarily mean better hockey, and 3-on-3 isn’t better hockey. It’s barely hockey.

And yeah, if we’re playing the full five minutes there, the Bruins win 11-0 in overtime, but you get my point.

With any rule change designed to increase scoring, it will eventually be ruined by defensive-minded coaches who concoct schemes to shut down offenses. Remember how many goals were scored in 2005-06 with the new wide-open style that didn’t allow clutching and grabbing? That lasted about as long as the Minnesota Wild’s stay in the 2013 postseason.

Sure, we’re talking a goal every 7.6 minutes now, but that number is going to balloon when A) coaches actually take time in practice teach players to defend against it and B) a shootout will immediately follow the 3-on-3 action, which means teams won’t take risks if they feel they’re better equipped to win that way instead, like they do now at 4-on-4.

The big problem that I foresee with 3-on-3 is that once teams take the tact of playing it safe and design systems to stop it, there’s really no good way to score besides doing it off the rush. The reason why 4-on-4 works so well is because you can score off the rush (3-on-2, 2-on-1, 2-on-2, breakaway) but unlike with 3-on-3, goals can be had far more easily off an in-zone cycle. At 3-on-3, you’re essentially playing 2-on-2 once the puck is in the zone, because that third player is going to stay high to prevent a three-zone breakaway. That leaves the player with the puck essentially one person to hit with a pass in a dangerous spot. That means less scoring.

At 4-on-4, one of the two defensemen is far more capable of sneaking down low and getting lost in coverage. At 3-on-3, it’s essentially a half-court basketball game on skates and will be far easier to defend once teams adapt.

Of all the ways to solve the problem of deciding too many games with a gimmicky shootout, 3-on-3 makes by far the least sense since it’s an even more gimmicky way of deciding games.

The simplest and best way to have fewer shootouts is award a third point for regulation/overtime wins, but of course, the points system now is in itself a gimmick. It tricks fans into believing their teams are closer to a playoff spot than they really are, duping them into watching and attending games they otherwise wouldn’t if they understood their team was that much further from the top 8 (or top 4 or top 3 plus the wild card – OH MAN I CAN’T GET AWAY FROM THE GIMMICKS).

This 3-on-3 idea is fraught with so many issues that I’m convinced the only reason it has come this far is because Holland, by far the best GM in the NHL and perhaps any North American sport, is the man pushing so hard for it. He’s really smart. He’s proven for two decades he knows what he’s doing. Don’t you think if at a GMs meeting it was Scott Howson who stood up and said, “Guys, I’ve got it! Let’s play 3-on-3 in overtime!” that the room would’ve burst out laughing as if it just heard the punch line of a Louis CK joke, then moved on to the next order of business, which I would guess was discussing how they would all prevent restricted free agents from receiving fair contracts through the practice of collusion.

If the league itself and the league’s most prominent GM are in agreement that deciding games with a shootout isn’t the way to go, why not just, and again, just brainstorming here, get rid of the shootout and let games end in ties? The sport existed for nearly a century with ties and did pretty well. Soccer, somehow the most popular sport in the world, has about 98 percent of its matches end in scoreless ties (could be a made-up figure) yet decides World Cup elimination games with shootouts, which wobbles my mind more than Daniel Tosh’s fame or fantasy auto racing.

Bagging shootouts or creating a more equitable points system are far better ways to improve the shootout/loser point situation. I understand that at day’s end, the NHL is in the business of entertainment and 3-on-3 has the potential to entertain (until teams devise schemes to suck the fun out of it), but getting behind something that is slightly less worse than the worst thing in the NHL isn’t the answer.

FOUR QUESTIONS: Tim Thomas, Sens captaincy, fired coaches, outdoor hockey


What should the Panthers expect out of Tim Thomas and why would he want to play for a team that will be very bad this season?


I would expect a bad goaltender that will allow a lot of goals. He’s 39. He’s not just 39; he’s 39 and didn’t play professional hockey last year. He’s also going to be playing behind a team that allowed the seventh-most shots in the NHL last year. Yes, the Panthers have good underlying possession numbers and were missing a lot of players due to injury last season, but Thomas isn’t the missing piece to a championship puzzle or even a postseason berth.

If Dale Tallon wants an even time share between Thomas and Jacob Markstrom so the youngster has a support system in what should be a rough season, sure, I get it, especially if Scott Clemmensen is missing the start of the season. But really, the Panthers should be handing to reins to Markstrom and letting him gain some experience in what will likely be a lost season.

And why would Thomas play there? Anyone ever give you a couple million dollars to play hockey? I imagine it’s quite wonderful.


Who do you think should be the next captain of the Sens? My vote goes to Erik Karlsson.

Laura K.

It should be Jason Spezza. He’s been with the franchise for 12 years and has a desire to wear the ‘C’ and that isn’t always the case with some players. I understand the case for Chris Phillips, who has been with the Senators since a time anthropologists refer to as “the ‘90s,” but he’s 35 and there’s a chance this year could be his last. Spezza is 30 and will likely be a fixture there for a lot longer.

Karlsson is still just 23. Not every captain in the NHL has to be a person who just started shaving last year.

Hi Dave,

Who will be the first coach fired this season? 


I’d put my money on Claude Noel in Winnipeg, Peter Laviolette in Philadelphia or Mike Yeo in Minnesota. A poor start with either of those teams would likely be the death knell for all of those coaches. They fit the classic profile of coaches on mediocre teams coming off seasons that were disappointing to various degrees and are expected to be better this season.

Since the first guy fired usually never deserves it because of the sub-par personnel he’s handed, I’ll say it ends up being Laviolette.

Hi Dave, 

I need your help. I’m a huge Kings fan living in New Jersey. I moved out here five years ago for work. I didn’t get to attend any of the Stanley Cup Finals games against the Devils because of work, but when the outdoor game against the Ducks was announced, I promised myself I would get out there. I cleared it with work, and all I have to do is buy tickets and that won’t be a problem.

What is a problem is one of my girlfriend’s sorority sisters who I have met twice in my life is getting married the Saturday of the game and I completely forgot about it. I am screwed. I haven’t booked a flight or bought tickets yet, but it looks like I’m not going to be able to go to the game or even watch it for that matters.

What should I do?


Break up with your girlfriend.

(E-mail dave111177 at gmail dot com if you want a question answered next week or don’t who cares)

Comments (13)

  1. I think the NHL should just go with the way baseball does it and keep playing until you have a winner.

    This might help people who bet if a team has a back to back and ended up playing 3 overtimes in the first game.

    It might add some strategy if your actually chasing a team ahead of you and your playing them on the first game of a back to back (maybe play more defensive to prolong the game and make them tired for th next game),

    Just a theory.

    • It’s also pretty much impossible. Baseball doesn’t have near the travel schedule that hockey does, they set up shop in a city for a few days at a time and work in travel days. Baseball also doesn’t have anywhere near the physical demand that hockey does, players would be destroyed by the playoffs.

  2. “he only goal scored during the five-minute session came off a breakaway after a defensive mistake in the neutral zone. Somehow that breakaway is more acceptable than a shootout breakaway?”

    In a word, yes. For me it’s the fact that that goal is scored under something at least resembling game conditions. The player has to think on the fly, he may be coming in at an angle and, most importantly to me, there’s back pressure.

    If the shootout is here to stay, which I think it is, I would love to see a backchecker incorporated, starting at the blue line maybe, to prevent the spin-o-ramas and big looping 1/4 speed attempts.

  3. Three on three is hockey. A shootout is a part of hockey. How is it more gimmicky than the shootout? How is it basically the same as the shootout? These are both statements you make that you back up in no way whatsoever. You just say it is so. The only actual evidence you use supports using 3 on 3 (albeit in a small sample size), then you disregard it because you think you know what will happen. Let’s be honest, there is a lot more room for creativity in a 3 on 3 situation than there is in a breakaway. The amount of space on the ice created by a 3 on 3 situation. Three on three isn’t a perfect resolution, but it’s actual hockey. Using hockey to end hockey games makes sense, and burying it in hyperbole and strawman arguments doesn’t make it a bad idea.

    Not to mention your point about it only gaining traction because Ken Holland is backing it is just flat out wrong, and really shows that you probably played a very small amount of hockey. Every person who ever played in a tournament as a kid played the 5v5, 4v4, 3v3 overtime format. This isn’t something Ken Holland made up, it’s a format that has been around longer than I’ve been alive, just not used at the NHL level. I highly doubt a room full of people who have played in a 3 on 3 OT format would laugh uproariously at someone suggesting it.

    • I agree with Derek.

      Also, it would help if points were distributed thusly:

      From playing hockey (regulation or overtime): 3 points (win); 0 points (loss)
      From a shoot-out: 2 points (win); 1 point (loss).

      Then you mights see a little more urgency in OT.

      • I get that it’s a hard sell for league executives because of the desire to make teams seem more competitive than they really are, but what’s wrong with the simple 2 points for a win (however it occurs) and 0 points for a loss (however it occurs)? I find it bizarre that a win or loss based off of what’s in the rule book is effectively made more or less legitimate in the sense of the standings, depending on when that win or loss occurs.

        • I’m in the camp that believes we shouldn’t make the shootout more important. Right now, winning a shootout is worth 1 point. If we go to the 2 or 0 system, the shootout is worth 2 points. I like the fact that a shootout win is less legitimate than a 5-5 win (in the sense that the other team also picks up a point).

  4. Female hockey fan here. Since when are boyfriends obligated to go to all social gatherings with their GF? He doesn’t even know the bride. I wouldn’t expect his attendance if he has something else that he really has his heart set on. Go to the outdoor game!

  5. I absolutely loved backhand shelf because it was a bunch of guys who drank beers and talked hockey and were not complete professionals about it. The new format makes it like every other shitty show out there. Get the boys back and fucking swear and say passionate fan shit.

  6. How about the idea of having a negative aspect for getting to overtime ?
    The eventual winner gets one point and the loser gets zero.
    Would that motivate teams to end it during regulation ?

    Not my idea, but an interesting one, I think.

  7. “Braveheart Overtime” like in youth lacrosse tournaments, one skater and a goalie per team, pay till someone scores. Everything is a gimmick anyway. Change it up every couple years.

  8. 3 v 3 is even more gimmicky than a shootout. I am not a fan of the 4 v 4 OT, but 3 v 3 is just crazy. Why not just do 10 minutes of 5 v 5 OT and then the shootout. Winner gets 2 points, loser gets nada.

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