New rules! 3-on-3 OT, coach's challenge

by Travis Hughes

In June, the NHL's Board of Governors approved two major new rules, effective for this 2015-16 NHL season: a drastic change to a 3-on-3 overtime format, and the introduction of an NFL-style coach's challenge.

Here's how those rules will work this year.

3-on-3 overtime

When talk first came up that the NHL was considering changes to its overtime system, we all thought it would come in a form similar to what had been tested in the America Hockey League. Alas, It won't work like it did in the AHL last season, where they went to 4-on-4 before cutting down to 3-on-3 in a seven minute overtime period, and eventually to a shootout if things progressed that far.

Nope. It's just straight-up 3-on-3 for five minutes, with a shootout if needed after, and it's had a pretty big impact on games in preseason testing. Here are some early numbers from TSN:

While three nights of the preseason is an extremely small sample size, 10 of the 11 exhibitions to head to an extra frame after a tied regulation ended in overtime.

Even in the matchups designated as "practice" 3-on-3 overtime sessions - preseason games scheduled by the league to advance to overtime whether or not the score is tied - an overtime goal was scored in five out of seven games.

In all, an overtime goal has been scored in 15 of the 18 games (83 per cent) in which it has been tried. Four of those 15 goals were scored during a 4-on-3 power play.

And the goals haven't even taken much time. Eleven of those 15 goals scored were produced in the first 2:05 or less of overtime.

There's no guarantee things will stay this crazy, especially since this is new and its preseason and the setting will change come time for the games to count. But the NHL has tried to cut back on the sheer number of games that reach the shootout with this rule change, and it sure seems like that's going to be the case.

Here are the gritty details of how 3-on-3 OT works:

  • BASICS: It's 3-on-3 play for five sudden-death minutes.
  • PENALTIES & POWER PLAYS: If a penalty is taken in overtime, the teams play 4-on-3. (Essentially, the team on the power play just adds another player.) If a second penalty is taken, the teams will play 5-on-3. If a penalty carries over from regulation, the teams will play at 4-on-3. When a penalty ends, the teams play 4-on-4 until the next whistle.
  • "At no time will a team have fewer than three skaters on the ice during the overtime period."
  • IF TIED AFTER OVERTIME: If a goal isn't scored, the game moves to a three-round shootout. Apply the same shootout rules as in previous years.
  • BE CAREFUL PULLING YOUR GOALIE: If you pull your goalie for an extra attacker in overtime, and the other team scores into your empty net, you'll forfeit the one point you gained by forcing overtime.

Below, you can read the exact language the league uses to explain the new OT rules.

1. Teams play an additional overtime period of not more than five (5) minutes with the team scoring first declared the winner and being awarded an additional point.

2. The overtime period will be played with each team at 3-on-3 manpower (plus goaltender) for the full five-minute period.

3. Manpowers during overtime will be adjusted to reflect the situation in the game, but at no time will a team have fewer than three (3) skaters on the ice during the overtime period. For example, if a team enters the overtime period on a power play, manpower would be adjusted from 5 on 4 at the end of regulation to 4 on 3 at the start of overtime. If a minor penalty is assessed during overtime, the teams will play 4 on 3. If a second minor penalty is assessed to the same team during overtime, the teams will play 5 on 3.

4. If the game remains tied at the end of the five (5) minute overtime period, the teams will proceed to a three-round shootout. After each team has taken three shots, if the score remains tied, the shootout will proceed to a "sudden death" format.

5. Clubs who pull their goaltender for an extra attacker during the overtime period (other than on a delayed penalty) will be subject to the potential forfeiture of their one (1) point earned for the tie at the end of regulation in the event the opposing team scores into the empty net.

6. At the end of regulation, the entire ice surface will be shoveled and the goalies will change ends. There will be no further ice surface maintenance during the balance of overtime period. Following the overtime period and before the shootout, the ice surface will be shoveled again, and the goalies will change ends.

The (extremely limited version of the) coach's challenge

The NHL also announced in June that it will add a coach's challenge to the rule book beginning in 2015-16. But what exactly does that mean, and how exactly will it work?

It's very limited, for starters. The coach will only be able to request a challenge under two scoring play scenarios, according to the league:

  1. If an offside play leads to a goal.
  2. On scoring players that involve goaltender interference.

That means that things like penalties, or goals scored under other questionable circumstances, will not be eligible for challenge.

Teams will only be allowed to use their challenge if they have a timeout available. Just like in the NFL, if the team is unsuccessful in the challenge, they will lose their timeout. If they are successful, they will retain it.

Challenges on offside plays

Teams will be able to ask for a review if they were scored against and they think the opposing team was offsides on the play before the goal occurred. Under no other circumstance may a coach use his challenge in under this scenario.

More on this direct from the league:

Goals will only be reviewed for a potential "Off-Side" infraction if: (a) the puck does not come out of the attacking zone again; or (b) all members of the attacking team do not clear the attacking zone again, between the time of the "Off-Side" play and the time the goal is scored. ... In the event a goal is reversed due to the Linesman determining that the play was "Off-Side" prior to the goal being scored, the clock (including penalty time clocks, if applicable) will be re-set to the time at which the play should have been stopped for the "Off-Side" infraction.

Challenges on goalie interference

Teams will be allowed to challenge when a goal was scored and they believe there was goaltender interference was a factor, both on the offensive end or the defensive end.

So for example, if a goal is scored and a team believes their goaltender was interfered with, they can challenge.

On the flip side, if a team scores a goal that is waived off due to goaltender interference, but the attacking team believes the goaltender interference penalty was whistled incorrectly -- whether that's because they think there was no contact or that their player was pushed into the goalie --  they they can challenge.