6 ways to fix the NHL’s All-Star weekend
Photo credit:© Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
The NHL All-Star Weekend has come and gone, and this year’s edition seemed to push the envelope on general fan apathy.
The 3-on-3 tournament was chalked full of decent moments, including Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat’s swan song as teammates. But the game itself presented the same problems it always does: a lack of drive from the players to actually try.
Friday’s Skills Competition had some interesting ideas, but the overall execution was among the worst in league history. Cameras missed crucial moments, events bordered on overly complicated, and even the simplest events seemed to drag on at a snail’s pace.
For all the things the NHL can get right, like the inclusion of competitions outside the arena, they ruin it with rules that are either overly complicated or extremely stringent. That’s why it’s about time for the league to overhaul the weekend and fix it.
And yes, I understand that the All-Star Weekend is geared toward a much younger audience. But considering one of the most highly advertised competitions was built around a round of golf, the league could probably use that reminder themselves.
Luckily, as someone with as short an attention span as the average eight-year-old, I feel like I’m fully qualified to tell the NHL how to fix their event. So today let’s run through a few concepts I think would make All-Star Weekend more entertaining and a lot more fun.
More city-themed events, but LIVE
One of the best changes to the Skills competition format has been the introduction of more events unique to the city hosting. Last year in Vegas featured shooting pucks in the Bellagio fountains and Blackjack with oversized cards. This year we got a round of pitch and putt at a Florida golf course and a dunk tank game called ‘Splash Shot’ that utilized oversized surfboards as targets.
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These ideas keep bringing a unique vibe to the All-Star festivities, add a chance for the non-paying public to get an up-close view, and allow the players to show a little bit more personality throughout the weekend. Even when they don’t always work exactly as planned, the effort is appreciated.
The problem is how they keep presenting them to the fans in the arena and at home: as a pre-taped, overproduced highlight pack.
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These events would play way better as a part of a larger day of live programming instead of being smashed down into seven minutes of air time. Have all the players go out and take part in some outdoor competitions for part of the day before doing all the more standard competitions in the arena later that evening. And maybe take a page out of the Olympics’ book and give out some medals for the winners too.
Less watching, more competing
The biggest issue facing the entire weekend boils down to getting players to care about competing. More and more players are opting out of events just to sit on the bench and watch, and that’s a real problem.
The Skills competition used to involve a lot more players competing in events like relay races, 1v1 matchups in Fastest Skater and elimination shootouts. Perhaps the best way to increase the number of competitors is to convince more specialists from teams to compete in the events.
Have the absolute hardest shooters, fastest skaters, and most entertaining breakaway artists in the league all come just for the first day of festivities to go head to head, regardless of being a chosen All-Star. Maybe even bring in some NHL alumni or celebrity shooters as walk-on competitors and go for some viral moments.
It would not only allow some of the players facing off in the 3-on-3 tournament a little more time to relax, but also give some real stakes and bragging rights to winning the events.
NO COACH’S CHALLENGES
Just don’t do it.
Letting coaches take away goals in a game that has absolutely no bearing on anything is so ridiculously stupid, especially in a game where the players are already playing at half-speed.
Put the women’s players in the actual game
If there’s one thing Kendall Coyne Schofield and Sarah Nurse have proved at recent Skills competitions, it’s that women’s hockey players can absolutely hang with the NHLers.
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So why not add them to the lineup for the game itself?
The only real difference between the men’s and women’s games is the lack of bodychecking in the women’s game, and there’s absolutely none of that happening in the 3-on-3 tournament as it is. So why not give fans a chance to see Connor McDavid setting up Sarah Nurse for one-timers? Or Hilary Knight barreling towards the net on an odd-man-rush with Alex Ovechkin?
And more importantly, the women’s players would probably inject the tournament with some much-needed effort.
Find a GOOD way to feature the goalies
Being a goaltender at the All-Star Game is an absolutely thankless job.
Either you’re taking part in half-hearted events like Save Streak and this year’s Tendy Tandem, or you’re being shelled with pucks thanks to zero defensive help. This year’s competition got a little closer to fun than past attempts, but the dump-in element made the event a whole lot slower than it should’ve been.
There’s gotta be a more fun way to get the goalies involved in the Skills competition.
Maybe it’s as simple as having the goalies play their own 3-on-3 game against each other, in an event that would put any round of bubble soccer to shame. Or maybe you add style points for saves in the shootout competitions.
In the past the league has added the netminders into skater-centric events like fastest skater and relay races. Those outdoor events from earlier don’t require any equipment, so maybe there’s an opportunity to give the goalies the spotlight in those competitions too.
There are plenty of options on the table for the league here. Give the goalies their proper due before they’re forced to play the role of pylons in the big game.
Let the players recruit their own teammates
In today’s internet-centric culture, nothing sells people on an event like some planned surprises.
A decade ago the NHL had the really cool idea to let the All-Star captains draft their own teams, but that format disappeared after the 3-on-3 tournament was introduced in 2016. So let’s combine the two most recent All-Star concepts together, and add a viral marketing twist.
Give the captains of the four All-Star teams players the chance to recruit their own lineups for the game, with the hard rule that they can only add a certain number of their own teammates. Those choices could easily be turned into some entertaining content for social media as fans and players make their cases for what team to get on board with.
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It would also give friends from far-off divisions a chance to finally play together, stars a salary cap-free way to construct modern-day super teams, and even former teammates one more opportunity to play together. You know, in case that’s relevant to anyone in particular right now.
Personally, I just want to see a goalie get the chance to recruit his fellow netminders to play on one team together. Because, as everyone knows, the only thing holding us back from beating skaters at everything is the heavier equipment.
With the right time and attention, the All-Star Game can be fun for everybody again. And there’s no better time to start taking these suggestions seriously before next year’s big weekend in Toronto than right now.
Let us know how you’d alter the All-Star Game in the comments below!
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