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The problem with 3-on-3 overtime

Wednesday night I put a tweet out there and a lot of people got really mad, Steve Dangle even made a video where he yelled at me. But 3-on-3 isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night I made the following tweet from my phone while watching late night hockey.

A couple things about this tweet:

1. I said 3-on-3 hockey is fun, no denying that. Almost every negative response to the tweet ignored that part and attempted to assert I was saying the shootout is more fun. Nope.

2. Autocorrect on iOS devices always change 'its' to 'it's'. If you correct someone about that on twitter or another site where mobile devices are the primary source of use, you're a pedant and no one likes you. You're almost as bad as people who say whom.

On to the guts of it

My good buddy Steve Dangle did not like my tweet, and decided to make a video about how wrong I was, watch the video here:

There's a bunch of problems with what Steve is saying here, mostly because he's a big butthead, but first I need to backtrack a little bit and build my case.

The reason for 3-on-3 coming into the NHL is simple, NHL general managers want to avoid the shootout. Why do general managers want to avoid the shootout? Every single one of them will tell you the same thing, they don't believe shootouts should decide playoff seeding, because they don't represent who has the best team.

Any other point brought up as reasoning for 3-on-3 overtime has nothing to do with the actual decision making process, it's just fan opinion. No, people weren't turning off games or leaving arenas during shootouts because they're boring. Do some people hate shootouts? Definitely, a large majority of those people have always hated shootouts. There are people who have grown tired of shootouts deciding games, but that has nothing to do with their entertainment value, so again that argument is vacuous. They're a silly gimmick, but they happen to be full of tension and, at times, dazzling skill. However shootouts are inherently random. Good goalies often look terrible in shootouts, good scorers often can't score.

That brings us to 3-on-3 overtime. Many people will say that the primary purpose of 3-on-3 is to simply avoid the shootout, but without the why, that doesn't make any sense. The goal is to have a system that more accurately represents which team is better in any given night, it's all about the standings.

Unfortunately though, 3-on-3 is a big, entertaining mess. Played on chewed up ice with no safety net, goals are far more likely to happen off of a missed shot or fanning on a puck than a nice play. Hockey is a game of mistakes, but part of what makes the game intriguing is how teams are coached and conditioned to cover for mistakes, and in 3-on-3, you just can't. It's just as gimmicky as the shootout.

It's also not guaranteed to be entertaining either, there have been several overtimes already this season that have been horribly boring, one between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames especially sticks out in my memory. The most common play during 3-on-3 so far is to cycle the puck high up in the offensive zone until you find an opening, or skate around the perimeter until a passing lane opens up.

3-on-3 is inherently chaotic, which can be fun, but it isn't any better of a way to decide games than the shootout, even if it is more fun. My tweet was never about it being less fun, but that if fails in its real function, to provide a more accurate tie-break.

On to Steve's video

One of the things I think Steve gets dead wrong is how much he thinks 3-on-3 resembles actual hockey. On the surface it does, you can indeed skate backwards, and that's good! However if 3-on-3 looks like any kind of hockey, it looks like the All-Star game. That's right.

For five minutes, 3-on-3 hockey can be fun, but there are a lot of people who have put it out there that the NHL should consider going 3-on-3 full time. Nah man. No one would watch hockey anymore. Even if you think you would, you wouldn't. If you wanted to watch a sport where 40-60% of rushes ended up as a goal, you'd watch basketball. 3-on-3 is fun in spurts, but it's a gimmick, just like the shootout. The unfortunate thing about that is the NHL has put a gimmick in place in order to avoid another gimmick. Fun? Yes. A good indicator of who should get points? Nope.

Steve's point about penalty shots being a result of an infraction is a good one, it's an entirely arbitrary way to end a game. Now when is the last time 3-on-3 ever happened in an NHL game without infractions? You would need two sets of coincidental minors within a very short time frame to ever produce 3-on-3 in regulation, sooooo... still a gimmick.

Again, this has nothing to with liking or not liking 3-on-3, that format just fails in its purpose to make standings points more legitimate. Don't be surprised in a couple of years if "regulation or overtime wins" becomes simply "regulation wins" as overtime has become more of a gimmick than a game.