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Changes to the NHL All-Star Game

The NHL has announced that this year’s All-Star game will be 3v3 format identical to the current overtime game play. There will be four teams, consisting of 9 players (presumably 6 forwards and 3 defensemen) and 2 goalies. The teams will play a 20 minute game with the two winners moving on to a Championship game.

As with anything there are pros and cons. Before we can bash or praise the NHL for its decisions, we first must look at the reasoning behind the decision and also look at what the NHL All-Star game and weekend have become.

In any sport, the All-Star break is used to give players rest and also put the top performers of the sport on spectacle. Sports do this through Home Run Derby’s, Slam Dunk competitions, passing accuracy challenges and hardest shot competitions. Not only do the players get to compete in a fun environment for bragging rights, but it gives the fans of the sport great entertainment. Not often do the best athletes in the world get to display their skills under ideal conditions.

The All-Star game in the sport of hockey has become nothing short of a men’s league game. The players, managers and owners do not want to see their investment wasted for an exhibition game. The game itself really means absolutely nothing. There is no incentive to perform at your best.

The NHL has tried to remedy this by changing the format; North American players vs the World players, players drafting their respective teams and other measures which have come up short. The question then becomes is the All-Star break necessary? If so, how can the NHL improve on its already declining interest?

Before answering those questions, let us also examine some opinions I have already seen flood the internet:

  • Make the conference winning the All-Star game get home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Finals (they do this in the MLB)
  • Botch the All-Star game altogether
  • The 3v3 format will not be exciting for 20/40/60 minutes in duration
  • The players will still lack in participation opting for stretch passes while gliding around the ice
  • The 3v3 format in OT is not liked by the players, incorporating it into the All-Star game does nothing but make it more disliked
  • The 3v3 format ruins the ‘traditionalism’ of the sport

Answering our first question, ‘Is the All-Star break necessary?’ I am a firm believer that the Stanley Cup is the most difficult to obtain and grueling championship to win in all of the four major sports (World Cup is technically the hardest as most countries cannot even qualify as there are so many countries that participate). With that said, a break is needed. Three days really isn’t even enough. I happened to be on the Chicago Blackhawks website and noticed they are entrenched in a 10 or so day journey to the West Coast with a back-to-back and every other night schedule. That is intense. You are on the road, you are playing against the top players in the world. You are skating in the morning for practice and again in the evening for the game. This is not so much a rarity as it is the norm for NHL teams. A break is definitely needed.

The second question is whether the All-Star break can be saved and at worst gain back the fan base it has lost. Absolutely. Though I rarely agree with the things the NHL does in terms of running the league (Bettman needs to go) I do agree with them on this one. I am an avid supporter of the 3v3 format and given my subscription to NHL Gamecenter, I have watched my fair share of overtime frames.

In the Philadelphia vs Los Angeles game on 11/17/15, the game was tied 1-1 going into the third period. The pace to start the third was slightly slow, but still good enough to watch. The Flyers scored with about 6 minutes left in the third. The Kings responded with an onslaught of opportunities and finally broke through with 55 seconds remaining, sending the game to OT.

The OT frame saw two Flyers breakaways, 11 shots and 8 scoring chances. Both Quick and Mason dazzled in the five minutes of up-and-down hockey. No team scored so the game went to a shootout where LA eventually prevailed.

Thinking about the last bit of the third period, OT and shootout we can derive a reason why the 3v3 All-Star format can work. Once the Flyers went ahead by a goal, LA instantly responded by increasing pace of play. Obviously for the chance at points in the standings, teams are going to play hard late in games when they are trailing. We will never get that in an All-Star game. There is no incentive and it does not mean nearly as much to the players. I am willing to bet that any player in the league would take one regular season win over ten All-Star wins any day of the week.

Heading into the OT period, the pace was again frantic. OT’s have a tendency to start slow as the team who wins the face-off tries to maintain possession of the puck and create an initial opportunity. Once this opportunity has passed, however, it’s a sprint. Defensive zone gaffes are made, offensive chances are abundant and goalies are really put to the test. It is fast paced and the skill on display is phenomenal.

In 3v3 you don’t see much checking. There is contact in the corners, but with the open ice and man on man coverage there isn’t as much of an opportunity for big hits. The majority of the players on the ice are the point leaders, not the PIM leaders. This allows the Crosby’s, Tavares’ and Stamkos’ the ability to really display their skill without fear of being taken out by a Radko Gudas.

The same effect will be on display in the All-Star game. The players will compete harder as there is less probability of them getting injured. The checking aspect in 3v3 is naturally non-existent. They are also planning to incentivize the winning team which could mean the potential to earn about $100K/player for the championship. That’s 10% of the highest paid players yearly salary. Not a bad little bonus.

I have heard mixed reviews on whether the players like 3v3 or not. If you are an NHL player that stumbles across this, please leave a comment and share your insight on this matter. I don’t know if this is the saving grace for the All-Star game. What I do know is that the break is needed and I believe it tackles some of the issues (lack of participation, probability of injury, etc.) without radically changing the sport.

I am a fan of keeping things ‘old school’ and traditional. I would vote for no helmets, chain link fence and it only being a penalty if you lost a fight. I don’t think 3v3 is non-traditional in any sense. In fact, I could argue that it’s a more traditional form of hockey as it brings us closer to wide open pond hockey. You know, where it all started.

How do you feel about the All-Star break and the new format?

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