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Solving The Problem Of Too Many Shootouts Is Actually Pretty Simple

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The NHL is looking to reduce the number of games that end in a shootout by adding 3-on-3 play to overtime. As usual there is a much simpler solution.

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Like they have so many times before, the NHL is once again looking to tweak their overtime format, this time by possibly introducing 3-on-3 play into the mix in an effort to reduce the number of games that are being decided by a shootout; this season about 60% of overtime games have ended up going to a shootout. How exactly it'll work isn't known right now - there are two different proposals to consider - but having been blessed by the GMs, sooner or later it's a change that will happen.

There are those who hate the shootout, I'm not part of that group. In fact I've been to a few games where the best part of the game was the shootout (when your team has sucked for nine years you find entertainment wherever you can). The NHL's attitude toward the shootout has always seemed strange to me though. It's absolutely a gimmick but if it's part of the game, and for better or worse it is now, is it really important how often it happens? I guess it must be because the NHL is concerned about it.

The move to limit shootout occurrences started last summer when it was decided that teams would play with the long change during overtime, that's apparently had little effect since the league is now looking at something else to fix the problem. 3-on-3 might be better than a shootout, I tend to think that it is, but it seems just about as gimmicky as the shootout too. 3-on-3 hockey is almost something you never see in a game and now it'll be used to the Bettman point instead of a shootout. That doesn't seem like a dramatic improvement to me. I can't wait until the NHL starts to look for ways to reduce the number of games being decided by 3-on-3 play.

Part of the desire to see games end in overtime instead of a shootout likely stems from the fact that goal scoring has once again stagnated. After jumping to more than six goals per game following the lockout lost 2004/05 season, goals have been on a steady decline league wide, with the average game this season having just 5.46 goals. Getting a few more overtime goals would help nudge that total up slightly and might delay a future with bigger nets by a few years. Of course if the NHL really wanted to increase scoring they could always come to grips with the fact that their current point system is part of the problem, and until it's fixed the problem won't ever truly go away.

In an article buried deep in the Copper & Blue archives (side note, searching this site is a nightmare), from way back in 2012, Jared Lunsford looked at how the current point system affects how teams play. It's an article you absolutely should read if you haven't, or reread if you've read it before. When looking at the benefit of scoring goals late in games Jared wrote the following:

This raises the main criticism of the current points system - late in tied games both teams have little incentive to score and very strong incentive to keep the other team from scoring. In other words, both teams should be very cautious - giving up a goal is thrice as bad as scoring one yourself is good. The incentive problem is so extreme that the best team in the league (you choose but don't be wrong and say the Rangers) facing the worst team (Minnesota) would rather skip straight to overtime than play out the last 10 minutes.

A tie game late in the third period should be exciting, it should be the best part of the game with both teams pushing for the go ahead goal, but the current system takes that and turns it on it's head, instead providing both teams with an incentive to simply play out the clock and wait for overtime and the bonus Bettman point. You want fewer shootouts? Send fewer games to overtime, it's not complicated. And how many more goals would be scored every year if the NHL simply switched to a point system that promoted offence over defence? Probably more than will ever be scored during 3-on-3 overtime.

I'd even be willing to go a step beyond a 3-2-1-0 point system, eliminating both overtime and the shootout completely, awarding three points for a win and a single point to both in the event of a tie. Over 82 games I get more than enough hockey, if a few games end in a tie I'm okay with that. And this would also have the added benefit of being good for television as virtually every game would be completed within a three hour broadcast window. This might be a little extreme for some, and admittedly I think it has a nearly 0% chance of happening, but I think it would be a massive improvement over the existing system. Almost anything would.

But while that flawed points system may be costing the NHL goals, it has a done a wonderful job of creating parity around the league (James Mirtle had a great piece on this in The Globe and Mail over the weekend). So the league's decision isn't as straightforward as you might think. Do they want more goals to be scored on a nightly basis or do they want standings that make no sense but keep more teams in playoff races longer? I'd pick goals and entertainment every single time. The NHL will fool around on the edges though, making minor adjustments that'll have debatable impacts, while never addressing the real issue.