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Analyzing what 3-on-3 overtime could bring to the NHL

Aug 22, 2010, 5:39 PM EDT

bluespreds-shootout.jpgThe great part about the NHL’s research and development camp is that it’s sparked debate amongst anyone with a vested interest in the game. Of the many things experimented and tweaked through the two days of the camp, one of the more intriguing ones was how settling games that go to overtime is handled. Of the overtime tweaks that were handled, going from a 4-on-4 overtime to a 3-on-3 overtime to a 2-on-2 overtime with different time lengths to each period was something that was done.

James Mirtle of The Toronto Globe & Mail stepped up to discuss how going from five minutes of 4-on-4 to five minutes of 3-on-3 in a given evening of overtime play can work for the NHL, and has worked in another league.

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.

First of all, the BCHL is a low-level junior league in Canada so scoring numbers are going to be much higher there than you’ll see amongst professionals. The results that league has seen, however, creates a great scientific setting to show the success they’ve had in getting results that have kept that league from seeing tie games and what could, perhaps, see the NHL get away from shootouts.

Of course with all these truly great and imaginative ideas coming out about how to make the shootout less relevant, this is all avoiding the elephant in the room of how broken the NHL’s point system is. Having it so that games settled in regulation are worth fewer points in the standings than games that reach overtime is the special brand of crazy that brings critics of the NHL out of the woodwork and makes fans of the game pull their hair out.

Then again, that may not matter to the NHL as long as it helps keep teams artificially afloat in the playoff races each year and stake a claim to a “winning season” in spite of not being close to being a playoff team.

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