Here’s the problem with the National Hockey League’s All-Star weekend.
The NHL doesn’t have a Super Bowl, per se, at which to schmooze its corporate clients, so that everybody has a fantastic time and bucks up again when the contract runs out.
The Winter Classic could serve in that regard, but it is held in a cold place over New Years — a tough sell for rich guys who like to take their families to Caribbean islands at that time of year. And the Stanley Cup is too unpredictable, as both the dates and the locations are fluid.
So the league loves All-Star weekend, and the weekend loves the league back.
Right up until they have to play the darned game. Then it all goes to hell.
Everyone leaves embarrassed and complaining — not the ideal scenario for what the league had intended.
“Change is necessary,” said Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “Some (years) it’s hard to watch. (The goal is to) try and mix it up so there is some competitiveness, there’s some fun, but guys are playing for keeps. They’re playing real hockey. It’s hard watching when you know … the pace of the game isn’t even close to representative of how they normally play. A new format, I think, is needed.”
And so, we bring you the latest idea by the National Hockey League:
Four teams — one from each division — playing a three-on-three tournament, with a $1 million cash prize for the winning team. Teams would have 11 players each, made up of two goalies, three defencemen and six forwards playing 20-minute games with two 10-minute halves.
Fans will vote for one player per Division, and the NHL would name the other 40 players. (That part we like, because the way it has turned out, the fans with the best internet connections tend to get their player elected.) The player draft, which terrified the NHL because the players tended to get drunk on national TV, is gone.
They’ll still have the usual skills competition on Saturday, but instead of a bunch of NHLers playing five-on-five hockey at three-quarters speed, perhaps the three-on-three format will evoke something more closely resembling what we see on a nightly basis in overtime of regular season NHL games.
“I think (three-quarters speed) is a lot better than what you saw last year,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, a fixture in the All-Star weekend, which goes in Nashville on Jan. 30-31.
There’s a line to walk, Toews says, between a game that in the past has been “pretty slow, not much of an effort and not much of a product to watch,” and the chance for players to rest and “get ready for that last push towards the playoffs, and beyond that.”
The $1 million might hike up the pace a tad, he allowed.
“Wouldn’t hurt,” Toews said. “That, and the rivalries between the divisions would help the competition level.”
Look, the NHL isn’t the only sport whose All-Star game has lacked. Have you ever watched the Pro Bowl? You can’t play entertaining football at half-pace either, and the NBA’s game has been average at best for years.
Only Major League Baseball’s game works, and that is because pitchers still pitch at game speed, so hitters have to swing just a hard as ever. As such, fielding is no different than a regular game, nor is base running, and so on.
Hockey played at full speed means collisions, and collisions mean injuries. So everyone slows down, because no one wants to be injured at an All-Star Game, and the resulting product is like a rich guys’ beer league game.
“In the past, I don’t think guys want to put themselves on the line to get hurt,” said Patrick Kane. “But this could be entertaining, and that’s what we’re looking for in the first place. And, all the guys are pretty competitive. Whether it’s a regular (season) game, an All-Star game, an Olympic game, all of us want to win every game we’re a part of.”
Another theory goes like this: Taking hitting and defence out of the five-on-five game leaves it short. But, there is no hitting, and very little defence in the three-on-three game, so perhaps replicating the regular season product at an All-Star game is achievable, under this new format.
“It could,” Kane admitted. “It’s a good idea. Good to switch it up from where we are. You get into a 3-on-3 situation, you don’t want to be going 75 per cent because you don’t want to look stupid out there.
“It could be fun. I wonder if it’s one of those things that could turn into a whole weekend thing. Where you play it out (as) a big tournament?”
Whoa, Patrick. Slow down, man.