daugavins shootout

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It’s the counterargument to those who want to see 3-on-3 added after the initial 4-on-4 overtime: 3-on-3 is as much of a gimmick as the shootout.

More accurately, it’s the counterargument from people who apparently huff paint.

Considering 3-on-3 hockey equal with the shootout in terms of “here’s an actual hockey way to solve a hockey game” can only be the opinion of someone totally guessing.

I don’t have to tell you what hockey is – it’s defending, and positional play, and anticipation, and scoring, which you accomplish by generating chances and defending opponents. It’s a lot of things. There are, if I may understate, several moving parts.

I’ve seen the argument that it’s as much of a gimmick as the shootout - or more of one, if you read Ryan Lambert’s column this morning –  because 3-on-3 happens less than penalty shots in the NHL. Well, no kidding. Fights happen more than penalty shots, but you don’t settle games by using those because they have so little to do with the actual play of the game.

Weber Hemsky 2

Teams are built to succeed in different ways, and by making them trot out their three best breakaway guys you’re taking that out of their hands. The Nashville Predators depend on solid team defense, and they rely heavily on Shea Weber to make scoring a living hell for opponents. Trot out our best three shooters? They’re 1-7 in shootouts. If they’re even 4-4, they’re in the playoff hunt.

The New Jersey Devils surpress shots better than any team in the league, which has them within a whisper of playoffs despite their offensive struggles. 0-8 in shootouts.

Do you believe that if the Devils or Predators were given the chance to play endless Real Hockey OT they’d be a combined 1-15? Of course you don’t. So we should at least allow them more time to try to gain points using the strengths they believe they have. It wouldn’t make sense for the NBA to settle games with a dunk contest when some teams choose to build around playmakers like Steve Nash.

You’re taking the “game” part out of hockey by making it about a single skill, which is as reflective of a team’s ability to succeed at the sport as any other random skill you want to isolate from the game. Hey, being strong helps in hockey, so…push-up contest?

3-on-3 hockey allows teams to play to their strengths, which is essentially what every hockey game is about – how we try to win versus your style. If we’re a well-coached bunch, then there are ways to defend in 3-on-3 that maybe your coach hasn’t thought about. If you’ve got high-octane offensive players, maybe you wanna trade chances.

Linus Omark doing a spin for show. (Pic via Lowetide)

Linus Omark doing a spin for show. (Pic via Lowetide)

Certain players at every position thrive on game speed and game conditions because they can out-think their opponents under pressure. Wayne Gretzky was a notoriously poor breakaway taker compared to the damage he could do in games. By the same token, my college goaltender Nathan Lawson didn’t excel taking one-on-one, but he anticipated the play so far in advance he worked his way into an NHL crease.

In the shootout – which is fun, I’m not a miser here – we’ve seen Patrick Kane come in at a single mile-per-hour, we’ve seen a thousand spin-o-ramas, we’ve seen off-speed chip shots. A true gimmick like the shootout lets a player plan instead of react. There are reasons why some of the greatest pentalty shot-takers in hockey can’t play in the NHL. Where’s Linus Omark? Where’s Rob Schremp? Shootout skills do not an NHL career make.

Conditioning and cardio, speed and size, smarts and skills are all things players need to succeed at The Game of Hockey. Cherry-picking the last one and claiming a game of 3-on-3 hockey is the equivalent gimmick-wise is nonsense.

Between the scrape of the ice and the time it takes to get through the shootout, I doubt trying to end the game for another three minutes (my push would be four minutes of 4-on-4, four of 3-on-3) would delay things all that substantially. Given how often I think the game would end before the skills competition, it might even speed things up.

People just fear change which is why they’re afraid to give 3-on-3 OT a try. It’s still hockey. Actual hockey. Saying it’s “equally gimmicky” is the mark of a madman.