On Jan. 10, 40 players — in addition to the captains already selected by the fans — were named to the 2017 All-Star Game. All-Star Weekend is Jan. 28-29, with the skills competition Jan. 28 and the game Jan. 29.
All-Star Weekend has gone through many different iterations in order to keep fans engaged, from Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference, North America vs. the World, a fantasy draft and now the four divisions competing against one another.
Some of the changes have worked well, others not so much. In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, each writer explains what change they would make to All-Star Weekend in order to make it better. Here are our solutions:
Tony Wolak: Return to Five on Five Format
Last year’s All-Star Game in Nashville was exactly what the NHL was hoping for. With the introduction of the exciting three-on-three overtime format at the beginning of the season, the NHL was pleased to showcase its players’ speed and talent three at a time during the midseason classic. John Scott’s selection generated a lot of controversy, which led to more-than-usual press coverage as the game neared. Colorful characters like Scott, Brent Burns, and P.K. Subban were humanized through various amusing acts on the ice.
Last year’s game was unique. But unfortunately for the NHL, “unique” means “only one.” You can’t manufacture another John Scott story and, thankfully, the NHL hasn’t tried. Surely, players like Burns and Alex Ovechkin will show off some personality during this year’s game. That leaves us with the game format.
The three-on-three bit was fun, but it should not be repeated year-after-year — especially during the season the NHL celebrates its 100th anniversary. Hockey is played five on five, not three on three. The All-Star Game should show the NHL’s best hockey players, not the best overtime players.
Future games can be played with players divided up however the NHL desires — East vs. West, North America vs. World, North vs. South. You could even showcase the All-Star Game as an outdoor event to create more buzz.
Regardless, the game just should be played five aside, not three.
Brandon Peleshok: Better Roster Selection
It is completely understandable the league wants its best players to attend the NHL All-Star Game. In terms of marketing and fan interaction, it makes perfect sense to have your superstar players participate. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and company seem to have this idealized notion of the game as the top superstars in the NHL, pitting their skills against each other in full display. The problem — or one of the main problems, anyway — is the league cannot make players care about participating.
The league has taken a few steps to “clean up” its All-Star rosters in the past. Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk were the first players suspended for skipping the 2009 All-Star Game. After the fans voted in Scott as the Pacific Division’s captain last season, the league responded by creating rules to avoid a similar situation. Initially, I was against Scott playing in the game last year, but it turned into a breath of fresh air. It was fun, and in its current format, that is probably the best you can hope for with the All-Star Game.
I’m not saying the league should allow every “John Scott” the fans select to play in the game — the novelty would wear off shortly, and perhaps it already has. As long as the conditions surrounding the All-Star Game remain the same (with respect to scheduling, rules, etc.), the league is going to have a tough time selling its players on participating. So, find the superstars keen on marketing the league and themselves, the rising stars who want to attend, and even the odd “character” player. Creating a fun weekend with willing participants is more important than ideal rosters.
Tom Mitsos: Bring Back the Fantasy Draft
Beginning in 2011, the NHL had a fantastic idea in regards to creating All-Star teams. After going through the East vs. West games and then North America vs. the World, the league was looking for something else to spice up the game that had become stagnant.
Its solution was a good one: the fantasy draft. Two “captains” were selected, one of whom was from the host team, and the two captains went back and forth picking their team from the pool of All-Star selections.
Not only was it fun and entertaining for the fans to see NHL players involved in a playground-style draft, but you could tell the players had fun with it as well. Many of them had a few drinks before, or during if they were waiting to be drafted. The Sedin twins played on different teams during the 2011 All-Star Game, captains made teammates sweat as they waited until later rounds to pick them, and sometimes, teammates ended up on different All-Star teams.
During the 2015 All-Star Game, Ovechkin really wanted to be picked last in order to win a new car. The players conspired against him and picked him third-to-last, denying him his dream. It was a fun moment with Ovechkin campaigning to be picked last by his fellow peers.
In the end, Ovechkin was awarded another car by Honda that he auctioned off for charity. It’s moments like these the NHL will not see anymore now that the fantasy draft is defunct. The league would have to get rid of the division matchups in order to make a fantasy draft work again, but if there were four captains making picks for a three-on-three game, it no doubt would make for an entertaining night.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.