The NHL Player’s Associated recently announced that this season’s All-Star game, which is in Raleigh, North Carolina this year, will undergo a new format. The main change is that the two All-Star teams will be comprised of players chosen by two captains with no conference or other affiliation. The details of this change are as follows:
-The fans vote for six “starters” from a pool of 100 players: three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie.
-After that, the NHL then picks 36 more players to create a total of 42 players: 24 forwards, 12 defensemen and six goalies.
-The NHL will then select 12 rookies to compete in the NHL SuperSkills competition on Saturday.
-These 42 All-Star players will select two captains.
-The two captains will then select, one by one, players from the remaining 40 to fill out their teams. They will then select six rookies to a side for the SuperSkills competition.
-First choice will be determined by coin flip and the rounds will alternate first pick per round (so it would go: Captain A picks, then Captain B, then B, then A, A, B, B, A, etc.)
-The SuperSkills competition will consist of the following events: NHL Fastest Skater, NHL Breakaway Challenge, Accuracy Shooting, Skills Challenge Relay, NHL Hardest shot and the NHL Elimination Shoot Out.
There are some promising features of this new format while there are also parts I am not so fond of. For me, the pros and cons of the new All-Star format are as follows:
Pro: acknowledging that All-Star games have lost luster.
In today’s age of HD and 3D TV, cable and satellite packages and online streaming it’s very difficult for sports fans to not see whatever team, player or sport they want to see. As a result, All-Star games, whose draw was for fans to see players they couldn’t normally see on TV or their home arena, have lost luster. Even seeing All-Star only combinations such as a Crosby to Ovechkin pass or, in other sports, Peyton Manning throwing a TD pass to Andre Johnson or Dwayne Wade passing to LeBron James for a dunk- oh wait.
In any case, with fans having the ability to watch whatever, whenever, All-Star games have fallen behind. Other leagues have tried to bring back relevance to their games. The MLB has used a “This time it counts” mantra with theirs where the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. The NFL tried to move the Pro Bowl back to a week before the Super Bowl and also to Miami. Both have had minimal albeit somewhat positive impacts. Furthermore, the players themselves aren’t very enthused about All-Star games, especially in the NFL and NHL where the physical parts of those games are forced to be limited. No need for someone to get hurt in an exhibition after all.
What the NHL is doing, however, is considerably more outside the box than the other attempts. Brendan Shanahan, VP of Hockey and Business Development of the NHL and one of the people who helped create the new format, believes that this new format will create a new interest in not just the fans, but also the players who Shanahan hopes will find new interest in the format. Whether that actually becomes true waits to be seen.
Con: fans being forced to vote from a limited pool of not fully deserving players
Fan voting is often a source of dismay for many fans, as fans often vote for big names that are either having poor seasons or are hurt. Campaigns to abuse the fan vote by voting in an obscure non All-Star have come close to succeeding but none have pulled through either.
Perhaps, when thinking of this last point, the NHL thought it wise to restrict which players fan could vote for. Only 100 players are available for voting, at least two players from each team. This would be fine if each of the 100 were off to fine starts or weren’t at least struggling. However, the voting pool includes the likes of:
-Zach Parise: yeah, he’s a fine player. However, he’s hurt and he may not even be healthy in time for the All-Star game.
-Marc Andre-Fleury: he’s had an awful start to the season and has been outclassed in every way by Brent Johnson until recently.
-Dion Phanuef: hasn’t done much this season
-Craig Anderson: he’s been hurt as well and aside from parts of the San Jose series last postseason hasn’t done much to warrant such a high regard.
-Ryan Suter: why? Other than fellow ballotee Shea Weber there are at least one or two other Predator defenseman who deserves a spot ahead of Suter, who has only played six games thus far.
-Ilya Kovalchuk: he’s been struggling HARD. He’s only on the ballot because of his name.
Meanwhile, several notable players have been omitted, such as:
-Alexander Semin: Washington only has one forward on the ballot – Alex Ovechkin. For an offense as potent as Washington’s it’s a shame that Semin or any other Capital forward was omitted from the ballot.
-Kari Lehtonen: I don’t know if you could call it a career revival but Lehtonen has played exceptionally well for the Stars.
-Jeff Skinner: the Hurricanes center has played nearly as well as Eric Staal, who is on the ballot, and the All-Star game is in his team’s city.
-Tomas Plekanec: he leads Montreal in points.
I could go on. Then again, though, they don’t call it the “All-Good First Halves of Seasons Game”, do they? There’s gotta be some name recognition in there. What’s more, I would hope the NHL doesn’t pick the other 36 players from this same pool and take a good look at everybody’s statistics before making their decision.
Pro: the concept of the Fantasy Draft
I like this idea. It creates some intrigue as to who these captains are going to choose. Even the choosing of those captains, left by the 42 chosen All-Stars, is intriguing. A lot of people are going to assume that Sidney Crosby will be one of the captains, but will those 42 All-Stars agree with that notion? Perhaps they’ll go with a more experienced and respected player like Nicklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne, or Bryan McCabe? Even if Crosby gets named a captain, who does he take with his first pick should he get it? Teammate Evgeni Malkin? Star rival Alex Ovechkin? Or perhaps someone else? It’ll be interesting if not a bit dry as NHL players don’t have a lot of personality.
Con: what about the coaches?
The NHL plans on keeping the method of selecting All-Star coaches, which would be to take the coaches of the 1st place teams in each conference after a certain point in the season. Its not known as of this writing how the two will be assigned teams, but I think a different method to selecting coaches should be used as well. Perhaps following the MLB and choosing the coaches of the two Stanley Cup Finalists in the previous season? Or having the 42 players decide on the coaches? It’s weird that the NHL or the NHLPA didn’t bother to take a look at this too.
Pro: no conference affiliations
In All-Star games having teams based on conference has always seemed obvious but it’s also rather arbitrary as well. In All-Star games of the far back past the previous Stanley Cup Champion would take on a collection of All-Stars from the other teams, which was novel but not exactly practical. In All-Star games of the recent past teams were divided into players from North America versus players from the rest of the World. That concept was never well received. These two teams will have no such affiliations and will just be a game between All-Stars and All-Stars, and hopefully a reasonably dividing group of All-Stars to boot.
Con: everything regarding the SuperSkills competition.
Now don’t get me wrong. I actually do like the SuperSkills competition in years past, as well as the other “gimmicky” contests in other All-Star games. I really do not like what is being planned for this SuperSkills competition, however. First off, forcing the SuperSkills to be rookie-only is a terrible idea. What’s the point of watching when most hockey fans are only going to be mostly familiar with just three or four of these rookies? I suppose it’s nice that rookies such as Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin will get a stage all to themselves, but if other more prominent stars such as an Ovechkin or Datsyuk aren’t going to even be given a chance to show off their skills, what’s the point?
What’s more, those rookies are also unable to be part of the actual All-Star game. If, say, Hall turns out to have a strong early campaign, he can’t be part of one of the two main All-Star teams because he’s a rookie? Lucky for someone like John Tavares who was a rookie last season but is eligible to be part of the main team, but now he can’t participate in the SuperSkills competition. Why are the NHL and NHLPA being so restrictive here?
To top it off, although I haven’t been able to confirm this as true or not, it may also be the case where the results of the SuperSkills competition will directly affect the All-Star game the following day. Does that mean all the points from the competition will be given to the two All-Star teams, so the game will start with a score of 8-5 or something? Will an All-Star team be awarded a single goal to start the game because their rookie counterpart won the SuperSkills? I really hope this isn’t true, but if it is, this concept adds an unnecessary layer of complexity to the game. The NHL and NHLPA have the right idea with revamping the All-Star game but they really botched the SuperSkills portion of the weekend. Of course, some people would be happy if that competition was completely eliminated. These changes won’t sway that opinion at all.