With the NHL All-Star Game(s) on tap this weekend, we suggest some tweaks to the format to shake things up.
Should the NHL change the format of the All-Star Game?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: The 3-on-3 tournament format for the NHL All-Star Game accomplishes three important things. First, it puts the speed and skill of the league's best and brightest on display, which is sort of the point of this whole event. Second, it's a format that doesn't allow the players to approach it nonchalantly, because there's no hiding on the ice in the 3-on-3, no matter how hungover they are. But most important, it creates an event that looks nothing like an actual NHL game, which was always the problem with the All-Star Game: No one wants to watch a watered-down, half-speed, tedious exhibition game version of a 5-on-5 NHL game. Unless, of course, they call it the "World Cup of Hockey."
I'm a fan of the 3-on-3 format and don't want to see it changed ... save for one alteration. This division vs. division bit is fun, but it limits one of the most entertaining aspects of the All-Star Game: seeing mismatched players and rivals work together to create dream scenarios. Go back to conference vs. conference. Give us Connor McDavid setting up Patrick Kane or Patrik Laine. Give us Sidney Crosby setting up Nikita Kucherov. Give us that old conference vs. conference magic.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: The game needs an injection of energy, and some gravity attached. So bring back North America vs. the World.
The NHL introduced that format in 1998, ahead of the Nagano Olympics, to showcase hockey as a world sport. Well, the NHL is more international than ever and keen about establishing an international presence. There are 262 players from 15 countries not named U.S. or Canada. (In 1998, there were only 185.) Players love the chance to represent their countries, and if we're not getting best-on-best in the Olympics, or the World Cup next fall, put something on the line for players to brag about.
Linemates Mikko Rantanen (Finland) and Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden) trying to weave through Nathan MacKinnon (Canada)? Leon Draisaitl (Germany) jostling Connor McDavid (Canada) against the boards? Tell me that's not better than the stale, divisional tournament.
Dimitri Filipovic, hockey analytics writer:I'm perfectly OK with the current 3-on-3 format. It works because it's fast, it's exciting, and it accentuates all of the immense offensive talent that's on the ice. Those are the very best things about today's game, and therefore it makes plenty of sense to highlight those qualities during a showcase of the league's brightest stars. Most important, the players seem to like it, and as a result we've actually seen some inspired competition in recent years. You're never going to be able to replicate playoff level-intensity in an exhibition game like this, but even the slightest bit of competitiveness from the players goes a long way toward giving fans a reason to care about the event.
If I were to change one thing, it would be the selection process. While I understand the logistical importance of having every single team represented, it ultimately diminishes the significance of the event when it comes at the price of actually having all of the league's best in attendance. Fans want to see the most prolific players in action, shedding the constraints of the positions they play, their teams and their divisions.
It's silly that a player like Mark Giordano -- who is second among defensemen in scoring, a popular midseason pick for the Norris Trophy and one of the driving forces behind the team surprisingly sitting atop the Western Conference -- isn't at this event because of a numbers game. By any objective measure he should be there, but he won't because the Pacific Division gets only two defense slots, one of which is being given to Drew Doughty because the lowly Kings don't have anyone else even remotely deserving. Similarly, teams like the Lightning and Maple Leafs have been so dynamic offensively that they should each have at least four representatives based on merit, but they get only so many slices of pie themselves.
Ben Arledge, associate NHL editor: I like the current tournament format, with two caveats.
First, I'd go to 4-on-4. Sure, 3-on-3 hockey is exciting, fast-paced and creative when we get to see it during regular-season overtime frames. But during the All-Star Game, it just lends itself to more space for players skating half-speed and with very little effort on the defensive side of things. You end up with lackluster energy, little urgency with the puck and a ridiculous amount of slow 2-on-0 rushes. Sound fun? Maybe during the regular season when it matters, but it's not at this pace, and it grows old pretty quick. Instead, make it 4-on-4. Players have space to be creative, but not too much. You'll get some odd-man rushes and breakaways, but the goalies won't be left completely on their own.
Second, I'd ditch the divisions. Does anyone really care about the Metropolitan vs. Atlantic? How about this: The NHL and NHLPA recently pulled out of the 2020 World Cup of Hockey, and whether NHL players will return to the Olympics is an ongoing situation. So why not go international here? The players might actually care, playing against national rivals.
I propose four teams: the United States, Canada, Scandinavia and continental Europe. The Nordic squad would get Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Europe would get Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany and so on. Tell me that wouldn't be more fun. Team Europe's Nikita Kucherov flying down the right side and letting go a snap shot high at the Scandinavia's Henrik Lundqvist, or Americans Auston Matthews and Johnny Gaudreau setting up a nice passing play as they close in on Canada's Marc-Andre Fleury, or a red-and-white-clad Connor McDavid using his wheels in a foot race against Mikko Rantanen. People would be talking about it, and it'd be a whole lot more fun to watch -- and probably a whole lot more fun for the players.