The shootout is one of the most controversial aspects of today's hockey game and I get the feeling its approval rating continues to dwindle. On top of the people who always hated it, you have a new faction of folks who are bored of the spectacle. Thankfully, 3-on-3 overtime can save us all.
This weekend at the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan, eight NHL teams watched their best young players clash against each other. Since summer is a time for experimentation in hockey, the tourney rules included a seven-minute overtime period that began with 4-on-4 play, then went down to 3-on-3 after the three-minute mark.
The results were fascinating. Seven of the 16 games played in Traverse City went into overtime and not a single one went to a shootout. Now, perhaps you would argue that this was a summer tournament, with no real stakes on the line. To that, I would point out that both the third-place and championship games went into extra time, with Columbus' Josh Anderson winning it all for the Blue Jackets with a 3-on-3 goal against Dallas. Those kids were giving their all and were also receptive to the new overtime wrinkle.
"I thought it was pretty good," Anderson said. "There's a lot of space out there, a lot of momentum."
But there's also increased pressure on the players when they play 3-on-3. Not to say shootout shooters and goalies are stress-free, but I know that for shootout detractors, the lack of team involvement in a 1-on-1 situation puts them off. Here, players still need to work together and play responsibly.
"There's a lot of ice," said New York Rangers center Kevin Hayes, who played 3-on-3 overtime twice in four games. "You need to start with the puck right away or you're putting yourself in a bad position to get scored on."
I had seen 3-on-3 once in the past, when the NHL used it in a summer research and development camp involving draft-eligible players. That was basically a series of odd-man rushes (and don't get me wrong; I loved it. But I could see purists put off). In Traverse City, some of the prospects were in their early 20s and had played four years of college, some had full seasons in the American League and some even had a handful of games in the NHL. In their hands, 3-on-3 did involve odd-man rushes, but not totally. There were also faceoff plays, where teams worked the puck around the offensive zone and scored, piercing the man-to-man defense put up by the opposition.
"It's not often you get to play like that; it's kind of difficult, actually," said Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg. "It's big ice to work on. But if you beat your guy, you get some good options out there."
The next step is for NHL GMs and the league to hop on board. Ken Holland of the Red Wings has long been a supporter, so it's not surprise the tournament his team hosts tried it out. The American League is also going to use 3-on-3 overtime this season, giving the NHL a nice petri dish to look at.
"I enjoy it," said Columbus president John Davidson after the final. "We're looking for results. People want results before the shootout. I know our club was 1-0 in the championship, so at this minute I really like it."