NHL skills competition idea: Invite retired all-stars to compete

Wayne Gretzky and Ray Bourque at the All-Star Game. (Chris O'Meara/CP)

One of the most anticipated events at the skills competition every year is the hardest shot, which at this point is Shea Weber versus everyone else. Weber, who will surely be part of this event again, will probably get up there and clock over 108 miles per hour for the third year in a row and try once again to take down Zdeno Chara‘s record of 108.8.

After Weber and the other all-stars have taken their turn, picture this: Al Iafrate and Al MacInnis come out to give it a go. You’d go out of your way to see that, wouldn’t you?

Ah, the nostalgia.

The skills competition is still the highlight of all-star weekend for many, including yours truly. But if you could get enough retired players to buy-in, how great would it be to have a few become part of the event, in their specific areas of strength?

It’s unlikely any of them would beat today’s stars, but could Iafrate — who held the hardest shot record at 105.2 miles per hour for 16 years until Chara came along — reach 100? Could MacInnis? Maybe not anymore, but it would be great to see them try.

We could do it for other events, too. Think about Ray Bourque coming out for the accuracy shooting event, which actually seems like something he could still compete in. If Bourque could come out and hit four out of four targets, as he did to win the event in 1992 and 1993, that would be as memorable of a moment. And how about bringing out two-time accuracy winner Jeremy Roenick to see if he could hit all four, as he did in 2004?

The fastest skater event, of course, would favour the young, fit NHLers of today but still, who wouldn’t want to see and cheer on two-time winner and long-time record-holder Mike Gartner as he whizzed around the rink once more? How about Sergei Fedorov?

The Skills Challenge Relay, which involves seven skaters and one goalie, could really be fun. Could we get Wayne Gretzky out for the passing component, or Paul Kariya out for Puck Control? How about Brett Hull for the one-timer and Martin Brodeur for the goalie goals?

They probably wouldn’t win, but that’s not what it would be about. This would be must-see TV — and the players may eat up the competition again.

As far as which jersey these players would wear, how about something they’ve worn in All-Star Games past, such as Gretzky sporting the orange Campbell Conference jersey or Bourque in the Eastern Conference’s turquoise? Either that, or have Bourque in a Bruins jersey, Gretzky in an Oilers or Kings jersey, or maybe Roenick… in a Blackhawks jersey. Which team the players end up “representing” could depend on which city all-star weekend is in.

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Of course, this whole idea depends on the buy-in of these former stars and not all of them would be up for it. But, I’m betting someone like Roenick would get a kick out of the whole thing. Perhaps this year’s skills competition was the best opportunity to do something different like this, given that many of these stars will be in Los Angeles as part of the unveiling of the Top 100 Players list.

But would seeing your favourite players from the past make you more likely to tune in to the skills competition if you aren’t a loyal viewer — or if you are, more likely to stick around to the end?

Which former star players would you want in each event?

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