Hockey has the right idea

I’ve never been a hockey person.

I’m not anti-hockey; come winter time, I was just always obsessed with basketball.

I lived in Oregon for six years, and every time an acquaintance found out I was from Minnesota, they assumed I must love hockey — and seemed oddly disappointed I didn’t.

But the National Hockey League’s new overtime rule change has certainly gotten this hockey agnostic’s attention.

I first noticed the rule change on Oct. 16, when the Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar scored a three-on-three overtime game-winner to help L.A. beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1.

As a non-hockey fan, I hadn’t heard much about the new rules, but as soon as the overtime period started, the game had my full attention. Three-on-three hockey is thrilling, end-to-end stuff.

The rule change is relatively simple: if regulation ends with a tie score, the two teams play a five-minute, three-on-three sudden death period.

Neither team may have fewer than three skaters at any time, so if either team incurs a penalty, the other team adds a skater.

If the two teams are still tied after five minutes, they then begin the three-round shootout format.

I love this rule change for a couple reasons.

One, it makes shootouts less likely — and shootouts are a patently silly way to decide a winner, akin to holding a home run derby to determine a tied baseball game or busting out the arcade Pop-a-Shot machine to break a tie basketball game.

Any tactic aimed at decreasing the frequency of shootouts is a positive one, in my book, and it seems the three-on-three overtime could do just that: during the preseason, 75 percent of games ended before a shootout was needed, with the average three-on-three period lasting three minutes.

Second, three-on-three hockey is just plain fun — a souped-up, crazy-pants version of hockey that creates a wide-open, back-and-forth series of attacks and counterattacks.

Kopitar’s game-winner against the Wild came after two minutes and 19 seconds of high-intensity, unadulterated action — a blur of chances and turnovers and shots and saves until the puck found the back of the net.

So many sports are suffocatingly staid and self-important, rigidly adhering to doctrinaire thinking and old rules simply because change is scary. This is why I love the NHL’s change: it’s bold, interesting and predicated on the crazy idea that sports should be fun to watch.

With hockey’s three-on-three overtime rule in mind, I’ve brainstormed a few other potential sports tweaks to enliven the end-game scenarios of our favorite sports.

Last man standing

For basketball, we’ll keep it simple: We’ll ape hockey’s three-on-three idea, opening the game up for overtime.

Basketball games grow interminable in their final minutes, as coaches call a seemingly endless string of timeouts they’ve hoarded over the previous two hours.

The solution is straightforward. Once regulation ends, both coaches choose the three players they’re riding with in overtime and they get zero substitutions, zero timeouts and the shot clock’s duration is halved.

We’ll let these big fellas have a bit more room to roam and see what kind of endurance they’re working with.

Sure, it’ll get sloppy. But at least it’ll be snappy.

The meek shall inherit the dirty work

Football has tinkered a bit with its rules this off-season, lengthening the distance of the extra point to add a little variance to the game.

But I say we really ratchet up that variance meter to 11.

In football, I like the idea of shining the spotlight on a group of overlooked, unsung heroes: the offensive line.

Once overtime starts, each team will undergo a quick switcheroo: the five skill-position players will swap spots with the offensive line, giving the centers, guards and tackles a chance to soak up the spotlight and the headlines as running backs, receivers and tight ends.

(We’ll let the quarterbacks stand pat.)

Imagine it: we’ll get to watch 330-pound men running fly routes and halfbacks trying to block J.J. Watt.

Now, this will undoubtedly wreak general havoc on the field. Injuries will likely skyrocket, as will turnovers.

But think of all the Vines and the .GIFs! Every overtime would be a circus of mismatches and miscues, of terrific, world-class athletes attempting to do things for which they’re horribly unsuited.

Self-serious football could certainly use the injection of levity and absurdity.

Eight men out

The Kansas City Royals and New York Mets just completed a thrilling, 14-inning World Series game Tuesday night.

But for all of its ups and downs and back-and-forth, the game took over five hours and kept Mets fans up until close to two in the morning.

People have to work in the morning, baseball! So, my tweak for the sport is to ensure games don’t make it that far.

My baseball fix is the simplest of the three but also carries the most strategic possibilities.

Once nine innings are complete, each team must remove one player from the field after each subsequent inning. Their spot in the order is deleted and the defense must shift to account for the loss of a fielder.

So, for example, Tuesday night would have seen the Mets and the Royals down to a pitcher, a catcher and two fielders by the 14th inning — if the game had even gotten that far.

This would reward things that, in my view, should be rewarded anyway: speed, good defense and pitchers with strikeout-stuff.

It would also give managers a chance to deploy a variety of formations, shifts and defensive alignments.

Sure, some of these ideas may breed some chaos and create some unintended consequences.

But hockey’s three-on-three overtimes demonstrate that a little chaos can be invigorating. And the sooner the powers that be stop treating sports as sacrosanct and start trying unusual ways to improve them the better.


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