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3 (on 3) is the magic number in the NHL this season

The NHL's mesmerizingly manic 3-on-3 overtime format is everything a rules innovation should be.

This story appeared in the Dec. 7, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here

More than a month since his first meaningful encounter with the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime format, Toronto winger Daniel Winnik still describes the experience with borderline blasphemy. “Christ, I was nervous,” he says, recalling the mid-October night in Ottawa when the nine-year veteran took the opening shift after regulation. As a member of the NHL competition committee representing the players in rule-change discussions last year, Winnik had helped bring 3-on-3 sudden death to life. Like everyone else, he expected speed, open ice and more overtime goals, the intended consequences of the league’s most significant modification since implementing the shootout a decade ago. But beyond two exhibitions, several preseason practices and shinny games after summer workouts, Winnik had never played 3-on-3 for keeps. It took less than a shift before his thoughts turned to, Oh, s---.

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But that’s the thing: Those would be soccer debates in the way that ones about penalty kicks never are. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you there’s some sort of sanctity to the penalty-kick shootout. There isn’t. It’s a dumb way to decide a game. Better to let the outcome be settled by space. Better to let it be determined by soccer. – Grant Wahl