When the National Hockey League introduced a comprehensive 3-on-3 overtime system five years ago, it was met with intrigue and curiosity.
The league’s goal was to reduce the frequency of the shootout, and it has succeeded on that front. The format has been so fruitful that there have been calls to increase the length of overtime – perhaps as high as eight minutes – to all but eliminate shootouts from the regular season.
In the process, the league also found a way to make the end of games much more captivating. The NHL’s current overtime format usually produces a blistering five-minute (or less) stretch of play where each team’s most capable offensive players, generally speaking, trade high-quality chances. Skill, speed, and space are on full display, and there is a daunting amount of pressure on goaltenders to keep pucks out of the net.
As 3-on-3 has become a staple in the NHL, teams have become more sophisticated about strategy and personnel deployment. Remember the inaugural season of 3-on-3 overtime where teams were regularly dressing two defencemen and a forward? It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like an entirely different era of hockey.
With more data available, we have a better understanding of the teams and players who have been more successful in the 3-on-3 format. If we sample the last three years of data, for example, we see that the Tampa Bay Lightning (surprise) have absolutely punished teams, while the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche have struggled.