This story is over 5 years old.


The Good, Bad and Ugly of 3-On-3 Overtime

Playing five minutes at 3-on-3 when every single team in the league combined doesn't play a total of five minutes at 3-on-3 during regulation is even more of a gimmick than shootouts.
November 11, 2015, 7:20pm
Photo by David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After years of understanding the problem, you awaken one morning with the motivation to do something about it. You log onto your healthcare carrier's web site, find a doctor in your area, and schedule an appointment to have a gigantic mole on your nose removed.

It turns out the mole isn't cancerous but you're tired of seeing it so often. People are always talking about how great you look except for the massive chocolate chip in the middle of your face. The dermatologist gives you the great news—despite that mole's existence for a decade, it can be easily removed in a safe surgical procedure.


"No thank you," you say. "Instead, can I get one of those cool veils I see people wearing sometimes?"

READ MORE: Why I Stopped Caring about My Favourite Team

That's just about how the NHL decided on implementing 3-on-3 overtime for this season—the league identified the problem of shootouts deciding so many games and instead of lopping them off in a move that would have made everyone happy, it added a layer that would prevent people from seeing the blemish as often as usual.

It's been six weeks and 3-on-3 overtime has met at least two of its objectives—fewer games are reaching a shootout and fans love it. It's been commonly referred to as "hockey on cocaine" and only about six percent of games have reached a shootout after that number hovered around 15 percent during the shootout's ten-year existence.

But is 3-on-3 overtime having its intended effect? What is its intended effect? Why are players bitching about it? Are the skilled, superstar players deciding games like we all imagined?

Let's look at a few different aspects of 3-on-3 overtime and see if we can figure out anything.

If the intended effect was fun, excitement and the disappearing of shootouts, and everyone is having exciting fun and shootouts are not as prominent, what's the problem here?

The "fun" aspect sold by general managers and owners was at best a secondary result of the format but really a thing no one saying those words actually cared about. Fans were paying for tickets with or without this format so, as is usually the case when someone from team management is speaking, fans weren't really at the forefront of any thoughts.


The biggest issue with the shootout was how influential it was in deciding the standings and which teams qualified for the playoffs. After 65 minutes of hockey, a second point was being awarded for winning a skills competition, and teams didn't like that.

GMs especially didn't like that a gimmick mattered so much, so 3-on-3 overtime was hatched and adopted.

But, come on, isn't 3-on-3 overtime a gimmick?

Obviously, it is. If you don't think it's a gimmick, consider how you'd react to hearing the Flames and Senators were headed to overtime in 2014-15.

"I think I'm just going to continue watching this rerun of Friends instead."

But in 2015-16, the response is more along the lines of, "Can we not have sex until after this overtime ends? Sean Monahan and Kyle Turris and this much open ice is an event we can't miss."

Playing five minutes at 3-on-3 when every single team in the league combined doesn't play a total of five minutes at 3-on-3 during regulation is even more of a gimmick than shootouts, seeing as how penalty shots happen far more often than 3-on-3 situations. As silly as it is to give away a point for winning a postgame breakaway competition, it's only slightly less silly to give that point away in a timed breakaway competition.

READ MORE: Under the Bucket: The Oilers and Leafs Need to Figure Their Shit Out

Only about nine skaters (six forwards, three defencemen) are being used during overtime, which almost always turns into a breakaway competition. So, in essence, the league decided to get away from having games decided by a select few players in a breakaway contest and are now having games decided by… a select few players… in a breakaway contest.

Well, at least this breakaway contest has back pressure! And 2-on-1s!


As long as games are being decided more fairly—that is, the standings better reflect the quality of team because of this 3-on-3 measure—it's a gimmick that owners, GMs and fans have to embrace, because the NHL will never remove the mole it put on its own face ten years ago.

So… is it deciding games more fairly?

It's difficult to say, as the season isn't even 15 percent old and, not for nothing, would it kill or any other web site to list overtime records in the standings? And I mean any other web site. I'm looking at you,

"Fairly" is a subjective idea, but look at it in this framework: The 2014-15 Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings finished with 96 and 95 points, respectively, two fewer than what was required to reach the playoffs in their conferences. The Bruins (4-10) and Kings (2-8) were horrendous in shootouts despite being quality possession teams over 82 games.

By playing "real hockey," at 3-on-3, that's the type of thing that could be better avoided.

How's that going so far?

Four teams have three overtime wins: Chicago, Carolina, New Jersey and Calgary. That's the defending Stanley Cup champs and three teams few were picking to reach the playoffs in 2015-16.

The Canucks are 5-4 in games decided in regulation, 0-5 in overtime. The Predators and Wild, two teams with a combined 16-6 record in regulation, are a combined 0-4 in overtime. Again, this is a sample size of merely one sixth of the season, but 3-on-3 overtime appears to be deciding things in a manner that is just as haphazard as a shootout.


Most of the reviews are positive, but Blues GM Doug Armstrong laid out the potential problem with 3-on-3, which was the problem with shootouts: "I saw the entertainment factor in the AHL last year and see it this year in the NHL. But it no more represents the better team to me than the shootout."

The Blues are 2-1 in overtime this season.

Are the overtimes fun? Sure, but you're out of your mind if you think GMs and owners care about your fun more than their teams reaching the postseason.

At least superstars are using the extra space to score more goals, right?

This does appear to be the one predicted function of 3-on-3 overtime that has come to fruition. Jonathan Toews leads the league with two goals, and some of the big names trailing him with one goal include Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin, Jamie Benn, Johnny Gaudreau, Vladimir Tarasenko and Claude Giroux.At least superstars are using the extra space to score more goals, right?

Then again, Lee Stempniak, Lauri Korpikoski, Victor Rask, Kyle Palmieri, Mikael Backlund and Ron Hainsey have just as many overtime goals as Kane, Malkin, Benn, Gaudreau, Tarasenko and Giroux.

The even split between stars and lesser players scoring overtime goals speaks to the idea of equal randomness between 3-on-3 and shootouts. When Jason Garrison is scoring on a breakaway in overtime, it makes a strong case for considering both situations to be skills competitions.


Right now, regulation/overtime wins are considered the first tiebreaker, with shootout wins counting separately. Should the NHL start treating overtime wins the way they treat shootout wins?

If the randomness continues, yes, it should be a thing they consider for next season.

Does the fact some players have spoken out against it matter?

I mean, I understand where guys like Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Bishop and Erik Karlsson are coming from. Three-on-three overtime is about as far removed from a true hockey situation as you're going to get and if these players are talking about their annoyance with 3-on-3 to the media, you know there are more who feel the same way.

If enough players feel this way at the end of the season, maybe they will ask to revisit the idea of playing five minutes at 3-on-3. If GMs feel games aren't being decided in a better manner than shootouts, maybe they will oblige the players and come up with a new solution.

If 3-on-3 is proven to be a skills competition that doesn't do a better job of rewarding the better teams with victories than shootouts, what do we do here?

Remember ties? I do. I'm old. I never had a problem with them. Sometimes you earned a tie with a late goal, sometimes you squandered a point by allowing that late goal. Some sports don't lend themselves to having a victor in every game. One of those sports, soccer, is somewhat popular globally despite not having league games decided by shootouts.

READ MORE: The VICE Basics to Hockey Analytics

Shootouts only exist because the NHL shut things down for an entire season and the league wanted to do something splashy to get back into fans' good graces. Imagine going through a messy separation and someone gives you an ugly necklace as a way of winning you back a year later, and even though you were going to take them back, anyway, now you have to wear that ugly necklace all the time even though you both know everyone was happier when they didn't have to pretend they think the necklace is pretty.

Instead of having an honest conversation about the necklace, for your ten-year anniversary, you buy your significant other turtleneck sweaters, and unless you're Tomas Plekanec, no one wants to wear a turtleneck, either.

The best solution would be to play ten minutes of 4-on-4 overtime and if no one scores, no one wins. But players won't agree to extended overtime—understandably so—and just like Brian Burke, we are never going to make ties a serious part of our lives ever again.

Matt Duchene scored the most offside goal in NHL history in February 2013; it took more than two years for the league to add offside to the list of things that were reviewed for legality after goals.

Considering that time table, sit back, relax and enjoy 3-on-3 overtime until October 2023, when the NHL switches to 2-on-2 overtime after the lockout cancels the entire 2022-23 season.