3 Problems with the NHL’s New All-Star Game Format

On Wednesday the NHL officially announced its overhaul of the league’s All-Star Game. The league will move away from the standard two-team and three period contest and will install a three-on-three tournament with $1 million going to the winning team.

The Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions will all be represented by an 11-man team, made up of one captain, voted on by the fans, and ten other players chosen by NHL Hockey Operations, all broken down into six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies. The Eastern and Western Conference divisions will face each other to decide the representative for each Conference, before the two face off for the prize money.

The change from the standard five-on-five play to three-on-three action comes in hopes to breathe life into an All-Star Game that has lost its punch over the years and garners the least attention of all of the weekend’s activities.

Since the announcement, most have welcomed the change and are looking forward to a new look to the game. However, this new format doesn’t fix everything about the All-Star Game, and in some cases it will only make problems worse.

1. New Format, Same Problem

A recurring complaint about the NHL’s All Star Game has been the lack of effort. In most All-Star games you’re just as likely to see a hard back-check as you are to see a goalie shut out a team of the world’s best players. It just doesn’t happen.

Last season’s All-Star Game produced an NHL record 29-goal explosion for the fans in Columbus. At games end, most complained about the poor defensive efforts and goalies being left out to dry. But hey, it set a record. That has to give it some entertainment value, right?

At the conclusion of the game, while some were boasting over the offensive output, the majority was acting almost insulted at what the product was.  Changing the game to three-on-three likely wont fix this problem and might make this scenario even worse. Sure, there may fewer goals but that is because it is only one period of play.

Three-on-three hockey on a full sheet of ice is an iron man type of hockey. If you want to win, you’re forced to play 200 feet, you’re forced to back check hard and you’re forced to skate through your entire shift. Yes, that may solve the effort issue for a couple of shifts, but exactly how many shifts can three defenseman rush up and down the ice with their forwards? How many times can a forward back-check 200 feet over the course of 20 minutes?

If you look at the current three-on-three overtime format, the second half of the five-minute overtime turns into a ping-pong match of breakaway after breakaway and two-on-ones, because players are gassed or have fallen away from the play. Can you imagine that for an entire 20 minute frame?

This change might make things more exciting for everyone involved for the first chunk of the period. But by the end of the 20 minutes we’ll see exactly what we’ve seen in the past, odd man rushes with no pressure, but this time it will be because players are gassed and not because they aren’t trying. Then were presented with the same “this isn’t competitive, they scored so many goals it wasn’t fun anymore” situation.

2. Goalies, Who Needs Them?

The goalies have always been the odd man out in these games. Over the years, goalies have been the victims of poor back-checks, little defensive effort and have been lit up as a result. Just look at last years numbers.

Those are the best goalies in the NHL putting up sub .780 save percentages. This new format won’t help the guys between the pipes much, if at all.

The onslaught of breakaways an odd-man rushes that come along with three-on-three play will probably make things harder than All-Star Games have been in the past. If this change works  and players do in fact try harder, the goalies will be in for an even tougher night.

Also, who gets to play comes into question. No one gets a guaranteed two games. So one goalie may be left out completely. Yes, switching goalies mid period could be an answer so both get some playing time, but that brings in an injury variable that I’m sure most don’t want to deal with. A hard push across to try to save a two-on-one break after sitting on the bench for about 15 minutes, yea doesn’t sound like the best idea.

3. Show Me The Money

The new cherry on top of this whole situation is the cash prize that will be split between the winning team. Each player will receive roughly $90,000 for winning the tournament. But should this really be the case?

Each team will have at least one representative in the tournament. When the NHL decides who they are going to send to Nashville to represent each club the big heads are going to send players that are going to sell jerseys. Which usually means the star players. Along with star players comes big time contracts, these guys aren’t making the league minimum and aren’t anywhere near hurting for cash.

So this raises two questions. First, are the players really going to be motivated that much by this “big cash prize” and second is this really painting these players in a good light? If it does work and the  game turns around because you flashed some money in the guy’s faces, what kind of light is this shedding on the faces of the NHL.

Now, I don’t know what the players will do with this money when they do win it, they may donate it to charity or use it in some helping manner, which I hope is the case. But bringing in money as a driving force for a weekend that is supposed to be “for the fans” just seems a bit off.