NHL All Star Game Concept Succeeds; Leaves Room for Improvement

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The NHL shook things up, stepped out on a limb and took a few risks. Not surprisingly, buzz was generated and people seemed to show genuine interest in the league’s All Star Game.

For years I’ve been suggesting ideas to spruce up each of the professional sports’ All Star showcases in an effort to make them more entertaining and watchable. For the most part, it seems the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL were oblivious to the fact that most people didn’t care about an event that featured each league’s biggest stars. Until the NHL decided that they were going to do away with the conference alignment in it’s All Star Game and used a Fantasy Draft to make up the two teams competing for the All Star Game win.

By Peter Christian and Bryan Vickroy

The NFL tries to get people to watch by removing marquis players from the game and simply placing the game in the middle of the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. The MLB tries to accrue interest by adding weight to the game so that the winning league gets home field advantage in the post-season. The NBA attempts to capitalize on the other All-Star Weekend events rather than the game. Meanwhile, the NHL took a big step to appease to fans by thinking outside the box and trying an entirely new format.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the NHL has experimented with an interesting quirk for it’s All-Star Game. From 1998-2002 the league used a North America vs. The World format before reverting back to the standard conference vs. conference all-stars format.

This year’s change was a great change as it sparked interest in not only the game, but the entire weekend of events. Friday’s Fantasy Draft was the kick off to the weekend and was televised for the folks who love any sort of live draft (like pretty much all of us at The Sports Bank) and Saturday’s Skills Competition was a chance to see the league’s top talents show off their skating, speed, slap shots and creativity.

For all of the NHL’s changes, there were a lot of positives to take away from the new format but there is also plenty of room for the NHL to continue to improve.

The inclusion of team captains and a fantasy draft was a brilliant idea (though not necessarily the NHL’s own brainstorm) and making one of the hometown all-stars one of the captains was a great decision. However, moving forward I think the method to picking the captains should be using the criteria of one captain from the hometown team, the other from the Stanley Cup Winning team from the previous season. A wrinkle that could be added to this process would be making the player who scores the Stanley Cup winning goal is the 2nd captain.

(Note: this isn’t an attack on Nicklas Lidstrom, as he was an excellent choice to be a captain and I think the choices were outstanding, however I’m not sure the choices will be as obvious in upcoming seasons and this will be a good standard method)

Continuing with the home team representation, it worked out this year through the fantasy draft but it should be mandated that all the host team reps play on the same team so the local crowd isn’t torn in who they’re cheering for.

Some other things that were good but could be tweaked include the draft itself, the skills competition and more infusion of the rookies. The draft, for those who watched it, dragged on forever. With the selection of 48 players (including rookies) and the whole “Last Man Standing” thing, the process wore on even the biggest Fantasy Draft proponents.

A way to fix it is to A) Do away with the “Last Man Standing” concept and the coinciding car giveaway and B) Have each captain pick their top 12 (9 skaters, 3 goalies) then the remaining 12 players put their sticks in a pile and the captains rotate picking sticks to complete their team. For those that don’t know, the “sticks in a pile” is a the pond hockey traditional way in which to choose teams. Throwing in a bit of a the game’s roots is always a good thing.

The Skills Competition is always entertaining but it does have a few flaws. For one, there’s a LOT of downtime between the action. I know a few times I was getting bored watching on TV, which means it was probably really boring for those in the stands. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to try and streamline some of the competitions by limiting the number of participants in each event or simply making an effort to hurry things along. Also, as an added incentive for the competition between the teams, have the winner of the skills competition start the All-Star Game with a 1-0 lead.

Also, as a way to include the rookies in more of the weekend than just the skills competition, have them play a 3 on 3 pond style game (no goalies, the goal is made of 2×4’s with two small slots for openings) or playing “Pipes” in which a team wins by being the first to hit each pipe, the crossbar and then making a goal (the goal must be last).

Again, these are only suggestions to help what was a very good NHL All-Star Weekend continue to improve. As always with All Star games, it’s better to push the envelope and try something new rather than just doing the same thing over and over as the game is an exhibition and ultimately a way to showcase the league’s top stars on a national stage.

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