Is the 3-on-3 format working?


After a full season with the new 3-on-3 overtime format, there is still some discord amongst fans as to whether or not the new system is an improvement. On one end of the spectrum, those opposed to the conversion say that it isn’t old fashioned hockey and relies too heavily on the fast break.

On the other side, the fast pace and an increase of odd-man rushes is leaving fans on the edge of their seats. The shootout has grown stale and unexciting to a great deal of avid hockey fans.

The conversion to a 3-on-3 overtime format has led to a decrease in games decided by shootout, thus inspiring coaches to strategize for the win, rather than play it safe and hope your goalie bests the opponent’s top snipers one-on-one.

In 2014-’15, 56% of NHL games that went to overtime ended in a shootout (roughly 14% of overall games). That percentage was reduced to 34% in 2015-’16, which on paper doesn’t seem significant, but considering there are 1,230 games in an NHL season, a 22% decrease means that this rule change has had an immense impact on the end result.

The Sabres in particular benefited from the change this past season, though they were one of the few teams that actually had more games end in a shootout than 3-on-3 (the others being Carolina, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto). The team fared poorly in shootouts this past season, losing seven of nine, while winning four of eight contests that were decided in overtime.

The 3-on-3 format requires speed and puck moving skill which the Sabres have in spades. Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart provide the speed and scoring touch while Rasmus Ristolainen flourished as the safety valve and puck mover on the back end. With another season of development, the Sabres young speedsters should only improve under the new rules.

Despite his team’s success, Head Coach Dan Bylsma prefers a traditional 4-on-4 overtime.

“I’m not an overly big fan of it. You’ve seen it evolve throughout the year. In the first 20 games, there was more goals. There was a different feel to the 3-on-3 than there is now. It seems like it’s a little bit what 4-on-4 had turned in to, which was a little bit more patient of a puck control game on the outside and it’s a little bit tougher to get those scoring chances. You need to give up a chance to get a chance in 3-on-3 now, and that’s when it opens up.” – Dan Bylsma

Bylsma has a valid point, and the league should take it even further. If teams were awarded three points for a regulation or overtime win, two points for a shootout win, one point for an overtime or shootout loss, it would put even more pressure on teams and coaches to try and avoid playing it safe in overtime. 

Some coaches have been accused of being too conservative in the overtime period. With three points on the line every night, it could give teams incentive to push for a quicker, more exciting finish, which is the direction the NHL seems to be taking.

In a season that saw the lowest goal scoring totals since 2002, the league needs to do more to increase goal production (less leniency on the part of the referees would go a long way as well, but that is a discussion for another time), and a new point format as outlined above would do just that. Time will tell where this change takes us, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Anthony Sciandra
Anthony Sciandra
Staff Writer, BHC Podcast Host, and Website Admin. I'll never forget my first game at Marine Midland Arena in 1998. Sabres crushed the last place Lightning 4-1. Nearly spilled my Capri Sun. Bachelors in Communications from the University at Buffalo.
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