Potential rule changes to the NHL’s 3-on-3 overtime

After being introduced in the 2015–2016 season, 3-on-3 OT seemed to be a perfect solution to the NHL’s issue of teams waiting out overtime for a shootout, which was becoming less and less popular. 3-on-3 was exciting, fast paced hockey akin to pond hockey, and in the first season the amount of games that ended in OT rather than shootout increased from approximately 45% to 61%.

But, as tends to be the case, coaching killed that excitement. After all, nothing scares a coach more than run and gun (unless you are Bruce Boudreau or whoever is coaching the Oilers).

A common issue nowadays is that when teams don’t see a good look to enter the offensive zone, or get pressured in said zone, they just loop back to their zone and re-start rather than risk losing possession. This is because, like how possession is 9/10ths of the law, possession in 3-on-3 is 9/10ths of the strategy (NOTE: possession being 9/10ths of the law is not actually the law we don’t think—remember, this is an Oilers blog, please do not take any supposed legal advice from us).

To try and correct this, the NHL is reportedly looking into some solutions such as instituting basketball-like rules of a shot clock or preventing teams turning back after crossing the red or blue line.

Those seem like perfectly logical rules, but you just know that somehow a coach will figure out how to ruin them too (ie. if the other team’s shot clock is running down, how much you want to bet a team just stacks all three of their players in front of the net?)

So let’s look at some other potential changes that could be used to ensure 3-on-3 OT remains a must see event.

Inline hockey rules

The NHL is looking at the NBA for inspiration, but why do that when there is a much more appropriate set of rules that already applies to hockey?

For those who may not have played inline hockey before, here are some of the differences:

  • No offsides
  • No icing
  • When the goalie covers the puck, the other team has to back away and the goalie then plays the puck

Why would these changes work?

3-on-3 already has so much room on the ice. But if the players have to be constrained in smaller zones (i.e. the neutral zone back before entering the offensive zone, or just the offensive zone upon entry), that shrinks it down, leading to play being more likely to be stymied.

But if you allow the whole ice to be open at all times? Game changer.

We’ve seen the Sedins successfully pull of an “icing” bank pass, but imagine if there was no icing to be worried about?

You might say that this will just lead to extreme cherry picking, but think about it, if a player is cherry picking that hard, if their teammate gives up the puck, that’s a three-on-two to the other way with probably no chance of that player coming back.

But also, if the defenceman pushes back to cover him, you’ve now got a whole lot more ice for another player to wind up and wheel. Just imagine how fast Connor McDavid could get up to speed if he had that much runway.

The goalie having to play the puck is a more underrated aspect here. Faceoffs and whistles slow play down. But if the goalie has to play the puck? That means no strategy of freezing the puck to get tired players off the ice easy, it means that if a team pushes forward too much the puck can come back against them quick leading to a break.

That rule could also make it easier to push for 10 minutes of OT before going to shootout, as it likely doesn’t take much longer in actual time than a five minute OT when it’s essentially a run time situation.

Ultimate Frisbee rules

I jokingly say in the third period of every beer league game I play that we should switch to Ultimate Frisbee rules. What I mean by that is that once you get the puck, you can’t take any extra strides until you pass the puck.

Honestly, when you think about it this rule almost makes more sense for hockey versus ultimate. If you are running then stopping will require steps. If you are skating, you can still glide pretty fast and far without any strides.

Because of that, I don’t think this would necessarily result in a slowing down of play to a significant extent.

This rule change prevents a circle back, as the last thing you want is to literally have to be flat footed in your defensive zone with the other team coming at you.

Further, think of the creativity this would inspire? The give and go would go to a whole new level. Plus probably even more one timers.

Forward movement of the puck only

If you don’t want people moving backwards with the puck, then outright ban them from doing so. You can make it like the shootout rule where the player has to always be moving in a forward direction so you can still get spinoramas and the like. But no passing the puck back either.

Now the issue you probably see here is that eventually a player is going to be stuck behind the goal line, so how does that work?

Well, just look at the Sedin pass above. This rule wouldn’t prevent a player from shooting the puck off the boards/goalie/other player and have it ricochet backwards.

I admit that this one might not be as entertaining, and so maybe a medium solution is that this rule doesn’t apply in the offensive zone.

Ball hockey offside rule

Borrowing from another hockey variant, the ball hockey offside rule is that once the offensive team crosses the opposing team’s blue line, the offensive zone now extends to center ice (ie. to clear the zone the opposing team has to get the puck past the red line instead of the blue line).

Why would this work? Doesn’t this just tacitly approve and encourage the circle back?

Well, no. This would have a similar effect as the inline hockey rules above, in that it would extend the amount of ice available. Sure, a team now has more room to circle back, but it’s no different than passing the puck back to the point, just more space for the offense to work with. Losing the zone in this case would be even worse than regular offsides because now to regain you have to go back to entering at the blue line.

Two pucks

Is this a serious idea? No, not at all. But would the absolute chaos it would create be entertaining to watch? Hell yes. I can see the strategy being try to get possession of both pucks and then go down on opposite wings and take shots at the exact same time. Think beer league hockey warmup but with some actual skill.

Minor Hockey Week rules

Anyone who played minor hockey growing up in Edmonton remembers the awesomeness of Minor Hockey Week. And the best part of it was the OT rules. Every OT period that passed without a goal meant the next period had one less skater (ie. start 5-on-5, then 4-on-4, then 3-on-3, etc). This meant you could get down to 1-on-1 but unfortunately, not goalie-on-goalie only.

Having that would give most teams an incentive to try to finish the game as quickly as possible rather than ragging the puck looking for the absolute best play. I mean, if you are on the other team, do you really want to have to face a player like McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon mano e mano?

Plus, what better way to decide with finality which player is in fact better than the other than a straight head to head battle? Unless your team’s player loses, in which case we have to remind everyone that this is a team sport and that come playoffs there is no one-on-one, so really this proves nothing.

Chuck a puck

You know how some people make fun of you saying “we” when it comes to your favourite team? Well this idea allows you, as a fan, to actually play a role in “your” team’s success.

If you are unaware of chuck a puck, it’s where after a game, some teams will allow their fans to purchase soft foam pucks to throw on the ice after the game is done, with the puck closest to centre ice winning the prize.

So my idea is, if the game is not decided in OT, a garbage bin is wheeled out to centre and all the fans in the stand can throw a puck and try to land it in said garbage bin. If they get one in, home team wins. If they don’t, away team wins.

How does this prevent the issue of circling back? Well, if you are a professional hockey player, do you really want the line between winning and losing to be whether Doug in section 105 has the arm and the sobriety to make that throw?

If you want a way to include away team fans that might be in attendance that doesn’t call for them trying to swat down pucks or just straight up tackling people, you could allow them to also purchase pucks in support for the away team. The rule could be that, no matter how many home team pucks make it in, if an away team one hits the target, the away team wins.

Just imagine being the hero who does that? Pretty sure that would call for instant jersey retirement or something.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

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