LOS ANGELES – The 2017 NHL all-stars did everything in their power at Sunday’s All-Star Game to atone for what was, let’s face it, a flat skills competition the night before. The 3-on-3 tournament treated fans at Staples Center to offense, offense and more offense. Central Division goaltenders Corey Crawford and Devan Dubnyk might be hearing the arena’s goal horn in their sleep for a while after being blitzed for five of the Pacific Division’s 10 goals apiece in the Western Conference final matchup. We saw Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin playing as linemates for the Metropolitan Division and harmonizing quite nicely. The day featured 36 goals in total, up from 23 at last year’s all-star mini tourney.
The players seemed to enjoy themselves Sunday, and the goals flowed just as they do during regular season 3-on-3. If the games counted for more than bragging rights and $1 million, would the players like to see more 3-on-3? The shootout has been the talk of social media ever since Team USA ended an amazing World Junior Championship final with an anticlimactic shootout victory over Team Canada earlier this month. The NHL introduced 3-on-3 last season not just to entertain fans, but specifically to reduce the number of shootouts after seeing the AHL do it so successfully a season prior. Might the league consider taking it a step further and abolishing the shootout altogether?
There’s obviously a reason why Major League Baseball and the NBA can deploy continuous extra innings and overtime during their respective regular seasons: baseball and basketball are not contact sports. They are hard on the body, of course, but not in the way the NFL and the NHL are. The NFL ends games in rare ties if nothing gets settled after 15 minutes of overtime and, given the fact NHLers play as many games as NBA players but with the physical wear and tear of football players, asking for even more overtime action might not seem fair.
But do the players feel that way? Not necessarily, at least based on a canvass of the NHL’s all-stars Sunday. Some outright want shootouts gone and would welcome continuous 3-on-3.
“Yeah, for sure,” said Colorado Avalanche right winger Nathan MacKinnon with zero hesitation. “I think fans are kind of over the shootout. It was really cool when I was a kid watching, and you were even hoping for overtime. But I think the 3-on-3 is so exciting. I’d like a 10-minute version, or we could just play until someone scores. And 80 percent of games end anyway in overtime, so if you extend it another five minutes, someone’s going to score.”
The Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin pointed out his team’s brutal 3-on-3 record this season and wondered if nixing shootouts was thus a bad idea, but he was mainly kidding.
“I do enjoy 3-on-3, so if I can find a way to transition that in real games when they mean something when guys are a team, then yeah, I’d like to see that,” he said. “But we’ve had one shootout game in the last 88 or 87 games. We just set a record. So I think the 3-on-3 is working. So many games are ending that way.”
Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who helmed the Central squad, sees some other complications aside from the physical toll extended 3-on-3 would take on the players. He mentioned TV time as a variable that would be difficult for the league to figure out. But the NBA and MLB, bigger worldwide brands than the NHL, don’t seem to have any trouble doing so. Why would it be a problem for the NHL?
Calgary Flames left winger Johnny Gaudreau said Sunday he loves 3-on-3, which isn’t surprising given his nifty skill set. But he pointed out that the game tightened up in the third round of the tournament for a second straight year. He wondered if that would happen if the league extended regular season 3-on-3 by a few more minutes. Still, as Seguin pointed out, most games end within five minutes of 3-on-3 anyway. The format is so effective that adding even five more minutes would still likely yield enough goals to all but kill the shootout for good. Not every player is enthused with the idea of more 3-on-3, though. Forwards seem to love it, but it’s a different story if you ask a defenseman who’s already topped 30 minutes of ice time when five minutes of overtime ends.
“I don’t know if we’d be able to do that,” said Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. “By the time that comes, I think everybody’s pretty tired. And it’s been working well with the 3-on-3 we have. It’s been ending a lot more games than 4-on-4 did before. So I think the format we have now is probably what’s going to be sticking.”
Shootouts are hardly a pressing bugaboo for those of us opposed to them anymore, as they’ve indeed been drastically reduced. But at this point, why not finish the job and put them out of their misery?