Clearly the NHL’s big decision makers are following me on Twitter and reading this blog as they announced a brilliant and awesome change for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game this week.
At one point last winter I penned my thoughts on altering the All-Star Game to a 3-on-3 tournament format although upon review I don’t seem to have ever posted what I had written. There’s a chance that I had originally wrote it for my duties with Great Skate and then swapped it out for another piece. So unfortunately my takes on the All-Star Game didn’t grace the internet which is probably for the best.
Whether or not I had published my thoughts on the potential changes to the game, know that the decision to move to a 3-on-3 tournament format is a masterstroke for the league.
Perhaps it was simply because of my age, but I remember a time when the All-Star Game was actually fun to watch. Owen Nolan calling his shot over Dominik Hasek’s glove remains a favorite hockey memory. Now the game is stale, filled with apathetic play and bloated scores. Amazingly, all this extra scoring didn’t seem to increase the entertainment value of the game.
Adding to the novelty of the game can’t do anything but help the product. Copying the MLB and awarding home-ice advantage to the winning conference would be foolhardy and aside from simply putting a cash prize on the line (which they happen to be doing) it doesn’t seem as if there were too many logical solutions to get the players to play harder.
The tournament format works on a few levels. First, it will likely take away the opportunities for players to coast through their shifts. While there is no guarantee that the 3-on-3 format won’t result in even more lethargic play, I’m willing to have some faith that fewer players will result in a bit more effort.
Second, the tournament format adds a different type of competitiveness to the event as a whole. The All-Star Game was really just a midseason exhibition where one player had the opportunity to win a car. There wasn’t much incentive beyond that. Introducing the elimination factor along with the new format should increase play a bit.
The final thing I like about this is the basic fact that it is something new. It may not be an ideal solution and could potentially even turn sour after one go-around. But simply making the change has me interested again. The Skills Competition has always been appointment television but the game itself isn’t. The new format will change that; and if it’s successful it will change the perception for good.
I remember one thing I was hoping for from a 3-on-3 tournament would have been a larger field. I think I would have preferred a six-team format to increase the number of games being played. Six teams of seven players would have kept the total number of participants nearly identical to typical All-Star Games and would have the potential for added entertainment value given the varying skill level of each squad. Plus, more hockey.
Six teams also would have made a potential fantasy draft loads of fun. However, I understand that the league still needs to honor the players who are missing out on a few days off to participate in the game. So the call to have four teams makes sense.
There are two things I hope the league puts into this new format in the coming seasons. One is a Young Stars team and the second is the fantasy draft.
The Young Stars games the league played in previous years was always filled with excitement and tweaking the format of the game to have three veteran teams and one Under-23 team could be really intriguing. I could see this being something the league considers if the North American World Cup of Hockey team has a successful run next fall.
One potential limitation with the new format is that including all 30 teams means that plenty of big stars will wind up on the bubble of their respective divisional teams. A fourth team that would be limited to sub-23 or sub-25 year old players could muddy those waters further but it could also help include more bonafide veteran star players. I suppose the true answer to whether that would work or not will be dependent on what the initial rosters look like for this season. Even so, running three fantasy drafted teams along with a Young Star team would be a very cool wrinkle.
The removal of the fantasy draft is a disappointment. There seemed to be some concerns over how much air time the drunken stars of the league would get during the event and I suppose the league figured that giving the players a night to themselves was the best move. But with a new four-team setup I can’t help but think how cool it would be to have the four captains picking their teams schoolyard style.
I’m really excited about this new format and there truthfully isn’t anything to dislike about it. Hopefully this year’s game is a hit and the league sticks with the format moving forward. I’m looking forward to seeing how the league decides to do the jerseys for the game and I’m very interested to see how the rosters shake out.
It’s going to be a fun weekend to keep an eye on and I can’t wait until it rolls around.