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How to Improve the All-Star Event

I’m going to take another crack at suggesting ways to change the All-Star Game for the better.

NHL: All Star Game Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With another All-Star Weekend having come and gone, I think it’s as good a time as any to revisit the topic of changing things about the All-Star Game to improve the experience. I’m not setting out to fix the event, as the event isn’t broken in my opinion. Here are five ideas I’ve considered.

Bring Back the Fantasy Draft

We only got three All-Star Games with the pre-weekend Fantasy Draft, thanks to the 2012/13 lockout and the 2014 Olympics. I feel that getting rid of it made the whole event lose something. It’s an extra opportunity to put on display the players as people, something that gets missed in not just the All-Star Weekend, but the entire season. It’s something that would behoove the NHL to work on in general, as a good portion of the NFL’s and NBA’s popularity comes from the marketing of players. There is literally no better way to put players’ personalities on display than to have a bunch of them together in a hockey-related, but not on-ice, capacity.

Now, I’m not saying go back to a full 60-minute game. I like the Threes mini-tournament used in the modern All-Star Game. I just think they, along with a fantasy draft, would be a perfect match. There could still be a captain from each division, voted on by the fans, of course, but they would pick teams rather than being limited to their own divisions. Think back to how surprising it was back in 2011 when the Sedins wound up on opposite teams. Pitting long-standing teammates against each other or teaming up two long-standing rivals always makes for some pre-game interest.

Expand the Ballots and Rosters

In the months leading up to the All-Star Game, I publish on this site a massive expanded ballot of players. The idea is that they would be the players fans would get to vote on. No write-in ballots, but a staggering number of options.

The way I see it, every year there are the sure-fire All-Stars. They go on the ballot, but it’s not necessary to vote them into the All-Star Game because they’re such established stars and enjoying such a strong season that of course they will be on the roster. And there are those who come out of nowhere with an All-Star calibre season, like Josh Bailey, and those who are generally at an All-Star level but would make the game more on reputation in a given year, like Carey Price this season. And then we have the Mike Komisareks, Zemgus Girgensonses(?), and John Scotts of the world who people will vote into the All-Star Game because of equal parts the fact that it would make a great story and equal parts screw the NHL that’s why. Guys who don’t necessarily deserve a spot in the All-Star Game purely on merit, but are stars in a different sense that they’re beloved fan favourites, though my expanded ballot idea comes with the caveat that there is some skill there, like with 30-point guys like Zemgus Girgensons or 2018 All-Star Brian Boyle. The latter category also includes team captains, which is why I had Derek MacKenzie in my 2017/18 edition. As mentioned in the previous segment, the player with the most votes from each division would captain a team.

Along with the voter ballot, I’d expand the All-Star rosters themselves. The way I see it is: the All-Star Game doesn’t really resemble a regulation NHL game anyway, so why not turn the Smash Bros. appeal up to 11 by doubling the skater count? The games would still be Threes, but now there’d be the equivalent of four forward lines and three defence pairings, just like an official NHL roster but also dividing equally into a total of six 2F-1D units. Having more players means frequent changes, which would keep the players a bit fresher, and if there’s a concern that 20 minutes per game wouldn’t be enough to showcase 18 skaters per side, then add another 10-minute period to each game, which would also allow a third goaltender for each team. Concern did cross my mind at one point regarding how the extra 36 skaters would all fit into the Skills Competition, but with the removal of the long and convoluted Skills Challenge Relay, it makes room for the challenges to be a little longer, making room for additional participants.

On this subject there’s an idea I think it would be cool for the NHL to consider bringing back: the Commissioner’s Selection. From 1991 to 1998, the President/Commissioner of the NHL would hand-pick aging players in the late stages of their career to be included on the All-Star roster. In my hypothetical situation, this could be a Commissioner’s Selection made to add to the 21-man rosters, or one of each team’s 21. The Commissioner’s Selection could be a player close to retirement, like the Sedins this season, or a less-storied non-top line/pairing kind of player like the actually-picked Brian Boyle.

Fire the Jersey Designers

Things were going so well, eh? 2016 and especially 2017 had such great designs for the All-Star jerseys, and then there were the disappointments that were this seasons’. The colour ideas were interesting, or at least the Atlantic Division’s were, but the execution seriously fell flat. Kind of like the 2015 All-Star Game, which based itself around neon green and then did barely anything with it. I think it’s time to introduce some fresh blood into creating All-Star jerseys. I have two ideas for this. First, promote the guy designing All-Star jerseys for the AHL.

Not a great deal of innovation if we’re being honest, but those designs are razor sharp. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, then here’s another option: outsource to the fine folks submitting their dream designs to Icethetics. At many times have I looked at the submissions on Icethetics and silently lamented how much better their ideas were than the bland and/or ugly official ones. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a trio of designs, all based on the same pattern, submitted to Icethetics by one Dylan Alexander, in the lead-up to the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus, with varying degrees of neon green. Hockey jerseys, with enough room for bold striping patterns and the display of a crest rather than a number on the front, are the best uniforms in sport, and there are immensely talented designers who will probably never work for an NHL team or Adidas. The NHL has a golden opportunity for fan engagement by having a contest to see who can design the best jersey. The winning designer would get officially manufactured jerseys with the submitted designs, and maybe a trip with friends to the All-Star Game to see his designs in action. It’s so much better than having some rando with no vision take a less-used colour and make a boring design like we got.

Skills Competition Event Ideas

I think the Skills Competition is in a really good place. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some further tweaks. Seeing as I’ve already presumed to change the format, make the teams larger, and outsource the jersey designs, I guess I can go ahead and decide where the Skills Competitions could use some improvement.

Firstly, let’s talk about the passing challenge. Specifically that first portion with the lit up targets. Get rid of them. We already have a similar segment in the same event with the mini-nets, which are a Skills Competition institution, so the LED targets are redundant. If we want to keep it a three-segment event, then why not have the player pass the puck at moving targets? No barriers, just slide a target cross ice and have the skater pass and hit the target. It would test a very important but somewhat overlooked element of passing, properly timing the pass, and I bet it wouldn’t be half as frustrating to participate in as hitting a target that is barely off the ice but just high enough to need to elevate the puck.

Second, we need the Goalie Goals challenge back. It’s no secret that the All-Star weekend isn’t kind to goaltenders, and while the reimagining of the Elimination Shootout into Save Streaks is a huge step in the right direction, it would still be fun to have each goaltender try to get goals. Give the goalies a chance to not be goalies for just a short time.

Thirdly, I think we could give the heavy hitters some love. Hockey is a contact sport, and while I’ve lately been on the anti-violence side of hockey fandom, I appreciate, and understand the place for, a clean body check. To the point that I think the All-Star Game should have a place to recognize the power forward/shut-down D aspect with a hardest hitter challenge. Have a dummy like they have in football tackling drills, and put a pressure pad on it. Have a player give it a body check, and figure out a way to measure how hard the hit is, with the winner obviously being the hardest hitter. I will stress now that the dummy would be moveable so as to not injure the player doing the hitting. It would add an extra texture to an event rightfully dominated by finesse challenges.

Change the Dates

Finally, let’s move the All-Star Game’s date. Back during the Original Six era, the All-Star Game preceded the regular season. Then it’s been a midseason event. I’m proposing it be moved to the end of the season, after the Stanley Cup has been awarded. Bear with me, I have a good idea here.

The problem with the Pro Bowl in the NFL hasn’t been that it’s held after the season or almost at the end, it’s that NFL football can’t be played without physicality, like hockey technically can, and yet the Pro Bowl is played without physicality. With that in mind, making the NHL All-Star Game a post-championship event wouldn’t make the event like the Pro Bowl.

By moving the All-Star Game to after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, it frees up the players. They can be in the All-Star Game, and then go straight to their vacations, rather than the somewhat jarring change from being opponents to palling around with other teams’s players and back to being enemies. It wouldn’t necessarily up the physicality or defensive aspect of the game, as players don’t want to be injured for their vacation any more than during the season, but maybe making the All-Star Game a denouement for the season would help getting players engaged.

The All-Star Game could be held along with the Draft, maybe Round One of the Draft and the Fantasy Draft on Friday, the Skills Competition on Saturday after the rest of the Draft, and the All-Star Game the Sunday following the Draft. Give one mega event for the city that gets the event, and give the players being selected in the Entry Draft the opportunity to meet the NHL stars of today on hand for the All-Star Game, have a team’s representatives meet their team’s newest prospects.

So there you have it. Combine the threes mini-tournament with the 2011-style Fantasy Draft. Give a huge number of players for fans to choose from when voting for divisional captains, be they the Connor McDavids or Brian Boyles of the league. Add another six forwards and three defencemen to each of the four All-Star teams like they’re full NHL teams, adding another 10 minutes to each mini-game and a third goaltender if need be. Get someone with talent and an eye for aesthetics to design the All-Star jerseys or partner with Icethetics for a sweet contest to get the All-Star jersey design. Replace the LED passing targets in the Skills Competition with timing-focused moving targets. Restore the Goalie Goals competition. Add a Skills Competition event in appreciation of the more physical star players. And make the All-Star Game a year-end competition held at the same time and place as the Entry Draft. That’s how to revamp the All-Star weekend for the modern age.