If the arrival of generational prospect Connor McDavid wasn’t convincing enough, a few new rule changes should make the 2015-16 season the start of a new era for the NHL.
The league’s Board of Governors recently approved a shift from a 4-on-4 overtime period to 3-on-3, attempting to allow for more scoring so as to end more games before the shootout.
Moving away from the shootout should have a significant effect on the 2016 postseason landscape, as clubs who were strong in regular game play but weak in the skills competition should come to be punished less for this discrepancy next season.
No club will benefit more from the change than the Los Angeles Kings.
After winning two Stanley Cups in three seasons, the Kings failed to earn a playoff berth in 2015, just barely missing out on a spot as they were eliminated in the second last game of the season by the Calgary Flames.
Despite the fact that they were clearly one of the strongest clubs in the league when it came to standard gameplay, the Kings were burned by their brutal shootout skills, leading to a subpar record of 40-27-15.
The Kings’ 4o wins were only three off of the total accumulated by the lowest playoff seeds, but their 15 losses in extra time ranked as the second-worst mark in the league. Of those losses, eight came via shootout.
L.A. managed two shootout wins—the least of any NHL club—while finishing with a league-worst shootout shooting-percentage of 14.3%. For a frame of reference, the top three shootout performers (Colorado, Chicago, and St. Louis) all finished with more than nine shootout wins and shooting-percentages above 40%.
The Kings’ poor performance was surprising given their wealth of talented offensive players. Despite boasting high-end forwards like Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, and Anze Kopitar—not to mention elite offensive defenseman Drew Doughty—the club’s offense didn’t transfer over to the shootout, which puts more value in stickhandling skill than overall scoring ability.
Carter, Gaborik, and Kopitar combined for only five shootout goals in 24 attempts, which comprised the only five shootout goals scored by L.A. in 2014-15. That’s a far cry from Colorado’s league-leading 23 total shootout markers.
Past that trio, the Kings saw eight other players combine for zero goals over 11 attempts.
L.A. is the perfect centrepiece for an argument against the shootout’s presence in today’s game. While the Kings are clearly one of the most lethal teams in the league, their inability to win shootouts cost them 16 points in the standings.
There is an argument to be made on the other side as well, however. Even if we put aside the fact that fans undeniably enjoy the shootout, we can see that removing it completely may not have helped the Kings all that much, as they only managed one victory during 4-on-4 overtime play.
A shift to 3-on-3 should change that.
Not only does it find a middleground between taking out the shootout alltogether and limiting the its impact (as fans will still be treated to a shootout if the five-minute 3-on-3 period remains scoreless), but it should also open up more space on the ice for offensive-minded players to work with.
Though the Kings may have only won once in the 4-on-4 system, there’s no telling how effective they could be in 3-on-3. Utilizing Gaborik’s speed with Doughty’s exceptional breakout skill, combined perhaps with Carter’s finishing ability, the Kings could find themselves with a much better record next season as they move past their weaknesses in the former overtime/shootout system.
While the previous system did the Kings no favors, the increased space provided by the 3-on-3 format will give Doughty room to do what he does best should the game extend past 60 minutes—which is surely bad news for the rest of the league.