COLUMN: NHL GM’s suggest 3-on-3 OT, ignore real problem

Nashville, TN, United States / The Game Nashville
COLUMN: NHL GM's suggest 3-on-3 OT, ignore real problem

Maybe, one day, they’ll get around to addressing the real issue.

The National Hockey League General Manager Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida ended on Wednesday and several interesting ideas came out of them. More focus on embellishment, NFL-style coaches challenges and more changes to the face-off.

Oh yeah, and 3-on-3 overtime.

Let’s focus on this one, shall we? Adopting 3-on-3 would almost be as bad as keeping hybrid icing longer than one season – which they’ve done.

To understand my disdain for this, let me take you back to a time when the NHL didn’t have a shootout. That’s right, from 1921 to 2004, this great game had ties. But American sports fans are used to having a winner and a loser so, when the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to forfeit a full season due to a lockout, they knew they had to change a few things to bring back the fans. One of those was to implement a shootout.

“What the hell do you want to pay $100-plus per ticket for and come see a frickin’ tie?” former San Jose Sharks color analyst Drew Remenda told me back in 2003. “That’s ridiculous for the fans. This game may be sports but it’s also entertainment and you have to entertain the fans.”

Agreed. No ties are great. Plus, shootouts can be fun. They give the League a chance to put their best players at center stage, one-on-one with a goaltender, custom made for the highlight-based landscape we live in today.

That said, it is a skills competition that decides a full hockey game which is a little odd. I can live with that but then they went and ruined it. The NHL determined that the loser would earn a point in the standings because, after all, they weren’t losing in a game, they were losing in a skills competition. Thus, they shouldn’t be penalized as if they lost in a game.

What they obviously weren’t understanding was that the team who won via the shootout was not winning in a game either. Their result, too, was based on a skills competition. So why should they be rewarded the full two points?

The reason the league went to a 4-on-4 overtime format in the first place was to encourage scoring. Too often, both teams would get to the overtime session and then play for a tie. Why? Strategy. If you’re a coach, isn’t it better to get something (i.e. a point) as opposed to getting nothing (i.e. no points)? Of course it is. So, if you get to overtime, just put the ship on cruise control and guarantee yourself improvement in the standings.

“Why not have a shootout instead of five minutes where guys play for one point?” Remenda said.

Eventually, however, teams figured out that they could just put it on cruise control at the end of regulation. After all, isn’t it better to get to overtime and at least get something as opposed to getting nothing?

So, as you can see, the real issue here isn’t necessarily the gimmicky 3-on-3 proposed overtime or even the shootout. Those things, in and of themselves, are tolerable. It gives the fans a winner and it prevents anticlimactic ties. The real issue that the NHL keeps skirting around – while indirectly admitting it’s a problem, by the way – is the point system.

I’ve heard the 3-2-1 structure (three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss) suggested a billion times over. While that would work on paper, it’s not ideal because it would skew the record books. In February of 2016 – two full months before the season is over — some team is going to threaten to break the points record of 132 because the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens and 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings didn’t have the same point structure. It essentially makes a farce of tradition. You wouldn’t want to see the League start rewarding players two points for a goal and just one point for an assist, would you? What would Phil Esposito and Wayne Gretzky’s numbers look like then?

And, for those who just want to ditch the loser point, that’s not the only problem. Yes, the loser point is kind of like the every-kid-gets-a-trophy philosophy. He could’ve barely seen the field but he gets the same trophy the all-star does simply because he was on the roster. That’s fine for eight-year olds but these are professional athletes. So, right off the top, the loser point has been flawed. But there’s more to it than that.

“There’s an appetite to figure out a way to have more games decided in overtime because more games are decided in the shootout than in overtime,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said last year around this time.

Great, Mr. Holland! Let me tell you how to do that.

It’s quite simple, actually. If a team wins in regulation, they should get two points. If they win in a 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 overtime session or a shootout, they should get one point. If they lose, they should get nothing.

If you break it down to its core, making overtime 4-on-4 and/or 3-on-3 is a gimmick to encourage a winner and a loser. And, if you disagree, go ahead and ask the NHL why they don’t just make regulation 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 if that format is so great. They don’t because it’s a gimmick. It opens up more ice for the skilled players that teams will put out there in an abbreviated stanza. More ice is supposed to equal more scoring. And more scoring equals more wins. Thus, as we discussed earlier, a gimmick should not be awarded as the full game. Hence why, if a team wins in overtime or a shootout, they should get one point, not two.

(Of course, with this proposal, the League could just keep the teams at 5-on-5 as there would be enough motivation built into the point structure. But that’s another argument for another day.)

What this does is discourage any kind of cruise control at any point of the contest. Both teams would have to play through the end of regulation because a full two points are on the line. Then, if overtime is required, they’ll play through that with only the highly skilled teams playing for the shootout because, they better get something, even if it’s just a single point.

But, it’s cool. We’ll keep cheapening the game and making a mockery of our great sport while we come up with new, innovative and terrible ways to “fix it.” That is, of course, until the real issue is addressed at meetings like those in Boca Raton.

Maybe, one day, they’ll get around to it.

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