The NHL plans to play three-on-three in overtime next season.
The league’s general managers and players agreed Tuesday to change the regular-season overtime period from five minutes of four-on-four hockey to three-on-three.
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The Board of Governors still must approve the change Wednesday when it meets in Las Vegas. The Board also will consider a recommendation to allow coaches to challenge goals on the basis of goalie interference calls or offside calls.
But the biggest agreement was reached on a fundamental change to overtime, which has been four-on-four in the NHL since 1999. Various minor leagues and European circuits have used three-on-three play with wide success.
"We’ve already seen that it works in the AHL," Calgary general manager Brad Treliving said. "And when you translate that to the skill level of the NHL players, I think it’s going to be very exciting."
The NHL adopted the shootout in 2005 to eliminate ties entirely. While Commissioner Gary Bettman and others defend the shootout’s excitement, it has been widely derided for awarding a valuable standings point on the basis of a skills competition.
A shootout will still take place under the new three-on-three format if games remain tied, but the change is expected to reduce the number of shootouts by creating plenty of open ice for three top skaters from each team. The NHL went to 178 shootouts two seasons ago and 170 shootouts in the just-completed regular season.
"I’m not against anything that gets fewer shootouts," Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray said. "The fewer shootouts, the better. … Three-on-three is fun. Three-on-three is a great thing. The AHL proved that one system worked, but the players weren’t fully on board with that apparently, so we’re going in a different direction, but there should be less shootouts."
The general manager proposed a change to some format of three-on-three overtime hockey last March. Apparently eager to avoid longer games, the players’ union ardently opposed a move to the successful AHL format, which begins with four minutes of four-on-four hockey before moving to three minutes of three-on-three.
"I think management preferred what they’ve done in the American League," Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "But management wanted a higher percentage of games decided in overtime, and three-on-three is going to do it. We think it’s going to be a much higher percentage."
The concept of a coach’s challenge to important officiating calls has been debated at length, and the executives believe they can create a system that causes relatively short delays in games to review key calls on goals. A coach only would be able to challenge a call if he has a timeout remaining, and no challenges would be allowed in the final minute of regulation or OT.
"I don’t think it will have a big effect, other than we may leave a little bit more satisfied some nights," Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said. "At least the referees will have a second look at a play that’s tough to call."
The general managers’ busy day at the Bellagio resort on the Las Vegas Strip began with the announcement of a $71.4 million salary cap for the upcoming season. The cap is slightly higher than some GMs’ projections because the players agreed to implement a 5 percent escalator clause that overrode the effects of a weak Canadian dollar.
The GMs didn’t discuss the possibility of expansion. The Board of Governors is expected to consider opening a formal expansion process Wednesday.