Slowly but surely, a number of off-ice events in the NHL have become increasingly popular with fans and the media. New events like the All-Star Fantasy Draft have brought relevance to the All-Star weekend and the Draft Lottery has suddenly become a half-hour TV event.
One thing the NHL has done a terrific job with is making their product TV-ready. Whether it be revamping the awards, instituting an All-Star Fantasy Draft; the NHL has realized their product is marketable and they have taken full advantage.
One event that could use a little updating is the NHL Combine. The Draft’s scope and popularity is continuing to grow and the Combine is following suit. However, the Combine is not growing in terms of entertainment value in the way that the Draft has.
With top-10 prospects growing more NHL-ready on a yearly basis, the draft is becoming more of an important event. No longer is it like playing darts with a drunk girl – hit the board and hope that your team scores points. Now players are more talented and capable of jumping to the professional ranks immediately. This obviously gives a greater vested interest in the Draft itself. However, the NHL combine continues to be more of a fitness test versus a skills test.
Considering the NFL Combine is a week-long television festival, why not have the NHL follow suit? I’m not proposing that these guys get suited up and scrimmage, that is what the Top Prospects Game is for. What I’m saying is create a few hockey specific events that will televise well. It could be fun.
Here is a list of some serious and not so serious (emphasis on the latter) ideas I came up with:
- Hardest shot and accuracy: Just like in the skills competition, line up the kids and have them shoot some pucks. Let’s see who can bring it and who can’t. Don’t put them in full pads, either. Give them a sweat suit, skates, gloves and a stick and let them have at it.
- Skating agility and speed: Again, a tangent from the skill competition to gauge a skater’s speed and quickness. Implement some of the stickhandling stuff into the agility to see how talented some of these guys are.
- Passing: I’m not talking about the silly passing into the small nets you see at the Skills Competition. I want to see some of this on the move over a defender. Let’s see if these guys are able to replicate Brooks Laich’s feed against the Rangers on a regular basis.
- Hartnell Down: Find the guys that appear to be kind of douchey and see if they’re bad at skating. Then give them a Twitter account and teach them how to appeal to fans despite playing for a team no one likes.
- Superstar Whiner Central: Just ask Torts, the Penguins stars do a lot of whining. Actually, most really good players do it, even Ryan Miller. So why not put these guys in a room and really piss them off. Determine who is the best whiner and hand out your grades.
- Strength and conditioning: Somehow the NFL Combine is capable of making the bench press and vertical leap a captivating trait. Maybe the NHL could do the same with their strength events (VO2 max and the bench). Although a scrawny 18 year old from Moose Jaw isn’t as interesting to watch as a professional college football player from FSU.
- Dangle station: How capable are these young men at dangling through a few defenders and going top cheese? I think it would be a whole lot more fun to see some sick hands rather than kids on bikes with tubes in their mouths.
- Lucic factor: Everyone seems to want big, physical, scoring wingers. So take the big guys, dress up a tackling dummy in goalie equipment, place it at the faceoff dot and see who can put the “keeper” into the stands.
- Pat Kane Wheeling Central: It is a well known fact that hockey players spend a great deal of their off time wheeling girls, drinking and acting like miscreants. Why not figure out which players excel at hitting up wild parties, picking up girls and perhaps even drawing bad PR? I bet that could show off a whole lot more than a one-on-one interview, no?