The NHL’s GMs recommended the league go to 3-on-3 hockey after overtime in order to cut down on the number of shootouts. That’s a noble goal, but if the league really wants to achieve it, it ought to revamp its point system to reward teams that win in regulation or OT.
The NHL’s group of GMs Tuesday endorsed a 3-on-3 element to follow its current five-minute overtime period with a goal of mitigating the number of games that go to shootouts. That’s a reasonable decision made in the name of a fairer outcome that rewards better teams. It’s just a shame the league doesn’t extend that philosophy to its points system, which still treats every game as if it has the same competitive integrity.
This isn’t to say the league has utilized its current system (which it’s used since implementing shootouts in 2005-06) for no good reason – the smoke and mirrors of keeping teams closer (at least, in theory) to a playoff berth gives more franchises a longer time frame in which to sell tickets – but when GMs are moving to lessen the impact of shootouts, they’re in effect indicting the system and the shootout itself. And in not moving to a 3-2-1 points system (three wins for a regulation time win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss) that would reward teams for winning in regulation or overtime, the league isn’t doing all it can to reduce the number of shootouts its fans see.
A 3-2-1 points system would encourage coaches to play a less safe (read: boring) game and to settle things before the skills competition. If three-on-three play turns into a series of 2-on-1s (as Blues coach Ken Hitchcock predicted years ago at the league’s research and development camp), there are those who will complain that, too, is a gimmick – but with a different points system, there’s an incentive for all parties to win in the first 60 (or 65, if you include 4-on-4 play) minutes.
As it stands, though, the league is sending mixed messages on shootouts. Its caretakers are clearly saying they want to see less of one type of hockey victory, but the one move that would cut the number of shootouts by an even greater degree is off the table. And for what – the mirage of parity? Is the loser point really behind the NHL’s surge in profits? Isn’t it possible fan interest would be increased by a game that does away with the loser point and instead takes more risk and offers more thrills?
Although I’m someone entertained by the shootout, I think seeing fewer of them would be to increase their value. That’s why it’s frustrating to see the NHL only take half-measures to get there. We’ve been talking about the fraudulent points system for years now, and if the league truly believes in the parity that’s been established under the collective bargaining agreement, it shouldn’t need any extra help from such computer-generated special effects.