Patrick Kane has participated in the NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition six times in his career. He has taken part in events that looked like practice drills, in which his remarkable stick-handling abilities were on display, and he has taken part in events in which he has worn Clark Kent glasses and a Superman cape before scoring a goal on his stomach.
"When I was a kid, I loved watching the skills competition. Loved watching all the events that we do," he told ESPN. "I almost wish they'd go to the old-school stuff a little bit. Like the puck relay, where you skate through all the cones, which is now part of the big relay. I think it's fun and showed off more of the skill."
The thing is, fans remember the goofy prop comedy event more than they do many of the other skills competitions. But the players themselves aren't keen on anything that might portray them in a goofy light and force their personalities to the forefront, after years of having them stomped down by hockey culture. Hence, things such as the Superman cape shootout and the All-Star Fantasy Draft were eliminated due to NHLPA gripes.
But what if the players were willing to gulp a little pride and have fun with the skills competition? We'd argue that the NHL would rope in a few more casual fans who otherwise aren't making time on a Friday night for that passing event with the godforsaken mini-nets that no one ever hits.
Here are 10 events we'd like to see in the NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition, to multiply the fun factor:
An 'American Gladiator'-style obstacle course
The NHL currently has a Puck Control Relay, which, as Kane mentioned, features players skating a puck through other pucks and then a puck through cones and then, new last year, a puck through a gate that lights up. It's fun and all.
More fun? Seeing the NHL's best puck handlers attempt to accomplish any of this while being pummeled by those giant jousting Q-tips from "American Gladiators," wielded by opposing teams' all-stars. Hey, this is exactly how it used to be in the slot every night before the slashing crackdown.
Speaking of rink-length shots...
GO PRO GOLD.
- Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) December 17, 2017
Look, I'm sure there's some argument against flinging Brent Burns across the ice out of a slingshot while sitting on a tiny sled, with his beard whipping in the wind as he flails about knocking over giant pins. I just don't care to acknowledge it.
The big switch
You know who doesn't get to have fun at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition? Goalies. Sure, there's a new event as of last year called Save Streak, in which goalies win by making the most consecutive saves, but for the most part, they're human props for goal scorers.
(By the way, the rules of that event allow for it to continue in perpetuity if the goalie keeps making saves. So get ready for these professional deprivers of joy to make 40 saves apiece and extend the skills competition into the early morning.)
The big switch offers a way for goalies to have fun by ... not being goalies. Let's take two goalies and two skaters from each team. The skaters strap on goalie gear. The goalies take off their gear and become skaters. Then we have a mixed up shootout. The goalies can exhibit their surprising offensive flourish, like a pitcher in the Home Run Derby. The skaters can show us how incredibly hard it is to play goalie. Mic up everyone, and have a grand old time. Who wouldn't want to see Marc-Andre Fleury taking shootout attempts against goalie Sidney Crosby?
The four-line challenge: Version 2.0
Speaking of goalies, they were involved in something called the four-line challenge recently, which was basically like watching warmed-over death:
- NHL (@NHL) January 23, 2017
But one of the cool things about it was watching goalies try to make full-rink goals through a Score-O placard in front of the net. Here's what we do: Make the event goalie-centric.
Put the Score-O board in front of the goal and have one goalie shoot from the point. Then take it away and have the other goalie bomb as many pucks as he can in a timed period into the net from his own crease. Goalie puck-handing is an art! OK, a forgotten art thanks to the trapezoid rule, but an art nonetheless.
You know what else is an art? Puck stacking.
- NickSports (@NickSportsTV) January 1, 2018
puck stacking game on �� tonight in the wheel pic.twitter.com/0a4B3AaIU8
- Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) January 7, 2018
Here's how I'd run the event, in two parts. First, you have players stacking pucks as quickly as possible, and their creations will be judged on artistic merit by an expert. Maybe the NHL doesn't exactly have a budget for these things, but what do you think Frank Gehry's appearance fee is?
Then you'd have a second component, which is a relay race in which players stack pucks on the blade of their stick and then have to skate the stack over to a bucket or some such. One point for each puck. If you want to include high-powered Super Soakers that attempt to knock the pucks off their sticks, we'd have no qualms about it.
While it's rather unfathomable, there are some people who feel that 3-on-3 overtime is a bastardization of hockey. It's those poor souls we have in mind when we suggest the following skills competition: 2-on-2 hockey.
Basically, make it NBA Jam for the NHL: a series of short, 2-on-2 games between skaters, with no goalies. Play within one zone, like a half-court hoops game. It'll be an exhibition of skill, a literal GIF-fest. The only thing missing would be a flaming puck for hot shooters, as the NHL clearly frowns upon lighting equipment on fire at the All-Star Game.
This is a great idea because everything the NHL has ever imported from the NBA has worked brilliantly, like Gary Bettman.
Hey, if you can dodge a wrench ...
There's actually a legacy of dodgeball in hockey. It's a staple of the NHL Mascots skills competition, held the same weekend as the game. Another mascot, Rob Gronkowski, also played it during a Florida Everblades game.
The best way to get casual fans interested in your product is to make it more relatable. Who among us hasn't had a moment of glory in high-school dodgeball? Now, picture that, except everyone is super strong and playing on skates.
This would be a great spot to bring back the glow puck tech, as glowing orbs with comet tails would enhance this about 1,000 percent.
Human bubble hockey
While we'd pay good money to see Joe Pavelski and Nikita Kucherov face off in a "USSR vs. USA" bubble hockey game at an arcade, we're talking about something much grander. A staple of intermission entertainment at hockey games, we're talking human bubble hockey:
- Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) March 21, 2017
What's one of the biggest complaints about the All-Star Game? That it doesn't look like hockey because there's no hitting. It's entirely possible we've had more guys named "Sidorkiewicz" in the All-Star Game than open-ice checks. It is, of course, a safety thing. No one wants to see a guy get hurt in a silly exhibition game.
Here's the solution: Protect the merchandise by encasing them in giant inflatable bubbles and then play some puck. You could do the "kick a ball around" version or just do that hockey. Have the bubbles light up in the colors of the All-Star teams for added aesthetic pleasing.
(Note to the NHLPA: The players will probably fall down go boom, and people will be amused by it, so we understand that this is a nonstarter.)
One idea that has been kicked around the NHL offices is bringing in the best of the best in certain skills competitions to face that year's All-Stars. Have Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber as the King of the Hardest Shot or have Michael Grabner in Fastest Skater. It would get away from the divisional team showdown, but it would make the events more meaningful, as competitors battle the best of the best.
Why stop there? How about importing some legendary players from the past to take part in the skills competitions they thrived in? Al MacInnis in hardest shot or Peter Forsberg in the stick handling drill or Martin Brodeur on the save streak thing? Let chants of "You've still got it!" ring though the arena.
But why stop there?! We've long argued about the inclusion of players from other leagues in the skills competition, making it less a celebration of the NHL than a celebration of hockey skills. Maybe get draft prospects like Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko in the mix?
There are many lessons to be learned from WWE owner Vince McMahon. One is that nostalgia and talent imports are always a way to make the crowd pop.
The 100-on-3 challenge
The NHL prides itself on trying to get children into hockey through participation.
So ... are you familiar with the 100-on-3 challenge? Because that's a heckuva way to get kids on the ice:
Quantity is cute. Quality though is what matters.
Great video of three pro football players Vs 100 kids.pic.twitter.com/G99LFvF1UE
- Subrahmanyam KVJ (@SuB8u) January 11, 2018
This was a friendly played in Japan last year, featuring three soccer players vs. 100 youth soccer players. It was hilarious. It was adorable. It can totally be a thing they do at the NHL All-Star Game. Give me Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov against 100 squirts from a local youth hockey leagues. Or, failing that, 100 youth hockey players vs. one snarly Drew Doughty, swinging his stick through these hordes of youngins such as Sauron slicing through the armies of Middle Earth. Hey, if these kids signed a waiver, they're fair game.
The NHL All-Star Skills Competition is crazy fun as it is. All we're saying is that it can always be a little crazier.