Like a Holly Holm kick to the neck, news came out of nowhere this week that the NHL and NHLPA have signed off on a one-year agreement to try out a new format for the much maligned NHL All-Star Game. So get your tears ready Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien, because a 3-on-3 division based tournament is primed to head up the mid-season classic.
The NHL All-Star Game has become a glorified version of playing hockey with your kids. Yeah, you’ll pass the puck around and take some shots, but you’re mostly going to sit back and wave your stick at someone slowly skating by you for a breakaway, then proudly congratulate them for “scoring”.
To players, it’s an exercise in boredom. It’s their version of a long office meeting with buzzwords. “We need to leverage our breakaway synergies, guys. Now, did you file that TPS report Getz?”
To goalies, it’s a horrifying glimpse into their future on the “Alumni” tour, which is why I assume most goalies never play in net after they retire if they can help it. “So let me get this straight, there’s no defence, I will have to rely on bad habits to make saves, and kids are going to watch me getting scored on repeatedly on YouTube? Why do I want this again?”
Most of the time the skills contest is the star of the weekend. It’s just tailor made for the YouTube era we live in, and it doesn’t have the burden of trying to pretend to be a real hockey game hanging over its head. Plus, it lets us pretend Alex Ovechkin is a pro-Canadian, rogue fisherman who is here to show people who really rules the frozen sea.
The problem with the All-Star Game is the fact that it’s trying to live up to something no longer possible or needed. Back in the old days, it pitted the Stanley Cup champions vs the All-Stars. It was like schadenfreude for everyone who lost to the Stanley Cup winners. “Come watch us try and beat the shit out of the guys who won it all last year!” For the fans of the Stanley Cup champs, it was another moment to stamp their dominance by spanking the All-Stars.
For many reasons, they can no longer use that format. One of the main ones being just imagine a Stanley Cup team with Matt Cooke and Brad Marchand on it playing the All-Star team. Explaining to a city (and Gary Bettman) that they lost Sidney Crosby for 2-3 months because Matt Cooke slew footed him in the third period of a tightly contested All-Star Game wouldn’t go over well.
On top of that, the idea of an All-Star Game is to pit the best in the world against each other. In today’s world we have seen that scenario play out in the Olympics, where something is actually on the line. The desire to see the world’s best in a competitive environment is filled up quite nicely by other tournaments.
This is why I really like the idea of moving to the 3-on-3 idea. The quick breakdown is that the two western divisions and two eastern divisions will face-off against each other, comprised of teams made up of 9-10 skaters and 2-3 goalies. They will play a 20 minute 3-on-3 game, then the winners will face-off in the “Finals”. Boom. Easy. Done. Love it.
At the very worst, it’s 3-on-3, so the god awful lazy defence won’t be such an eyesore. Watching Ovechkin skate through five guys at an All-Star Game loses its value when you see both teams chuckling about it afterwards.
— HockeyNightInCanada (@hockeynight) November 18, 2015
(Kudos to Jonathan Toews being the one guy taking it seriously, though. Look at him. He thinks it’s a real scrum!)
At the very best, you’ll see players with a lot of open ice, making some nice moves, possibly calling for oxygen tanks at the bench, but don’t forget about the nice moves.
The idea of making the NHL All-Star Game a “real game” is never going to happen, and we just need to accept it. All sports struggle with the All-Star Game because in today’s business oriented world, it’s hard to ask guys to go out there and possibly hurt themselves in a meaningless game. There’s simply too much money tied up in the players and teams to put players at high risk.
Baseball puts the World Series home field advantage on the line for their All-Star Game, but that’s a terrible idea. It takes away from the hard work teams put forth in the regular season. It’s like letting your parents decide how to spend your allowance. Not cool man, not cool.
So that is why when wacky format ideas are presented for the All-Star Game, I am all for it. Why not try and make it entertaining, even in a non-conventional way? At the end of the day, the kids will love any game that showcases their favourite players, so why not try and see if you can get some more adults on board with some interesting formats? You’re honestly not losing anything by moving away from the traditional All-Star Game set up.
Just accept the fact you’re not watching a game, you’re watching festivities, and you’ll be fine. The All-Star Game is very important for marketing the players, something the league is very poor at doing most of the year, so you would never want to see the weekend cancelled. That is why the 3-on-3 tournament is a great way to a) showcase players and b) emphasize this shouldn’t be viewed as a normal game.
Besides, Byfuglien hates 3-on-3 hockey, so just imagine watching him have to play an entire period of 3-on-3, possibly two. It’s glorious.
Now that being said, the one victim in all of this is the cancellation of the All-Star draft. I liked the “line them up against the wall and pick them” nature of the past several years of hockey. It spoke to our roots. It allowed us to watch players in a non-conventional setting. It let us watch who was awful on the mic when announcing draft picks, and pretend players were snubbing teammates by not picking them right away.
It also allowed us to watch Kessel get caught checking out the ladies and hiding it very very poorly:
If we can’t draft the players, lets scrap the divisional teams and put sticks in the middle, and choose teams that way. Have a former player for the city come in and choose sticks. Have some fun with it, you know?