The eventual adoption of 3-on-3 overtime for the NHL is a step forward, not to mention a crowning achievement for one of the sharpest minds in the game today. Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has been advocating for this for five years and finally got his wish when the GMs recommended that the league go to 3-on-3 overtime, effective next season.
The rule change still has to be ratified by the NHL’s board of governors, but once something passes the muster of the GMs, that’s considered a rubber stamp.
“I’m happy,” Holland said. “I think 3-on-3 overtime is going to be very exciting for our fans.”
Like many others who love the game, Holland had watched as the shootout, which came into existence 10 years ago, had gone from what was supposed to be a showcase of skill become a goaltending contest. And that wouldn’t have been so bad, except that about 60 percent of games that were tied were going to the shootout. And the problem with that is the shootout is not going anywhere. Love it or hate it, it has become the last resort for coming up with a winner in tie games.
So the GMs tried to marginalize the shootout as much as they possibly could, first by making regulation and overtime wins the first tiebreaker in the standings. Since then, the league has tried dry scrapes and changing benches in overtime with the aim of settling more games without going to a skills contest. But the tweaking was to no avail.
“So we’re going to try a more radical approach,” Holland said.
It’s even more radical, in fact, than the rule adopted by the AHL this season, which saw teams play 4-on-4 until the first whistle after the three-minute mark of play in overtime, then 3-on-3 for the remainder for a total of seven minutes. Playing under the old 4-on-4 rules last season, the AHL saw 64.7 percent of tied games go to a shootout, a total that dropped to fewer than 25 percent of tie games under the new format.
The NHL originally wanted to go the AHL route, but the players on the league’s competition committee wanted nothing to do with it. They basically told the GMs they wanted either 3-on-3 for all five minutes or have the overtime format remain status quo. Score one for the players, who perhaps didn’t want their stars to have to work the extra two minutes, but also saw a chance for the league to do something drastic and decisive with its overtime games.
It should have the desired effect, if the AHL petri dish is any indication. And it will serve a dual purpose of both deciding more games in overtime and making overtimes more exciting, adding some spice to a league that has slowly been dragged back into a defensive shell in the 10 years since the new NHL has emerged.
It will be interesting to see how coaches will deploy their personnel for the extra period now. Do they go with two forwards and a defenseman or the other way around? Or will some bold coaches, in an effort to end things early and get the extra point, put three forwards out for overtime?
Those weren’t the only changes GMs endorsed at their meeting in Las Vegas. The long-discussed coach’s challenge will finally become reality, pending board of governors approval. Coaches will next season be able to challenge goalie interference and offside goals.
The GMs also learned that the salary cap for 2015-16 has been set at $71.4 million and a floor of $52.8 million. That had to be a relief to some of the teams that are up against the cap and faced the prospect of it being significantly lower than that. That total was established because both the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association elected to trigger the five percent growth factor. That means players could possibly face the prospect of more escrow payments next season.
For the 2014-15 season, the league deducted 15 percent of each player’s paycheck for escrow payments, but likely won’t know for some time what the actual escrow amount will be. In fact, the players just recently learned what their escrow payments were for 2013-14 and it was just over 10 percent.