Leafs goalie James Reimer and Sabres center Cody Hodgson (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
If you’re a fan of the possibility of 3-on-3 overtime in the NHL, pay close attention to the United States League this fall. The NHL will be.
The junior developmental loop is experimenting with the format during its pre-season contests; any games tied after regulation will go directly to five minutes of 3-on-3 play. Further, any game played during the USHL’s “Fall Classic” week (it began yesterday and runs through Sept. 20) will automatically go to 3-on-3 overtime regardless of the score.
Since the USHL is such a prolific producer of prospects – it had 35 players/alum selected in the 2014 NHL draft – big brother will indeed be watching.
This marks the second consecutive year the USHL has woven the 3-on-3 trial into its exhibition schedule. Last year, it employed the scaled-down OT and is hoping the increased sample size this year provides a more comprehensive picture.
The USHL's decision comes a couple months after the American League announced it would also employ 3-on-3 overtime. Their format change sees the introduction of a seven-minute extra period that begins as 4-on-4, but morphs to 3-on-3 after four minutes.
But wait, there’s more. Shorthanded icings will not be permitted in the USHL's pre-season. Teams killing penalties will be whistled for icings, with the ensuing faceoffs coming back to their defensive zone. They will be allowed line changes at the stoppages, however.
With the absence of a research and development camp this year at the big league level, the laboratories provided by loops such as the USHL and AHL take on greater significance. The USHL, for example, was the testing ground for hybrid icing, a rule it pioneered and put into effect in 2007. The NHL introduced it in 2013-14.
The possibility of 3-on-3 overtime in the NHL garnered significant attention at last March’s NHL GM meetings, as a way to potentially reduce the number of games that proceed to shootouts. Ultimately, there wasn’t enough of an appetite to take the next step. This pre-season in the USHL will provide another round of data to feed into the debate.
Last season, 14.5 per cent of NHL games ended with a shootout. It was the third highest total since the shootout was introduced in 2005 and the second time in three years it had topped 14 per cent. That compares to 11.8, 13.3, 12.7 and 12.9 in the first four years of the shootout.