The NHL All-Star weekend has in past 10 years become a joke, to be frank. Traditionally the format of a skills competition on one day followed by one game the next day has brought it’s fair share of memorable moments, goals, individual performances, and stories. What it doesn’t seem to do anymore is trigger a love of the sport in general for new fans who happen to tune in. The event has become tired and mundane as is what happens, and I do believe the NHL was right to try and stimulate new life into the weekend.
The skills competition events used to be a perfect fit to challenge the players and there was more of a discrepancy in skill between the top players. Now it seems as though the majority of elite players share the same skill set and too many different players can now obtain high scores in the events, making it not very interesting. The new relay is an awesome event for skill showcasing, but to try and shake things things up they turned the breakaway event into something so sickeningly awful it makes it hard to watch any of the rest of the night because you know what’s coming. It says right in the rules “shooters can start their routine anywhere in the neutral zone”….Any time a penalty shot is referred to as a routine or some sort of staged performance with the winner voted on via Twitter regardless of the result of the attempt, it becomes a travesty to what the weekend is supposed to be celebrating. It’s like the NHL was saying “ratings are dropping and we’ve got nothing. We’ll put together a limitless competition with no rules and no clear goal and we’ll hope that at least one player does something clever or crazy enough to justify it.” But really, would you rather watch Patrick Kane do this:

or Pavel Datsyuk do this:

The All-Star game itself has been tampered with as well in the past from the default Conference vs. Conference format, with changes ranging from NHL players challenging Russia to North American players taking on the rest of the world. However, naturally over the years the players themselves have changed too and the atmosphere has suffered greatly. I remember games 25-30 years ago where there was actually a little bit of contact. Goals were created on team passing but a lot of the time it was just incredible individual skill being showcased and players weren’t afraid to challenge each other one on one. Nowadays it’s like nobody wants to be “that” guy who actually tried, who accidentally embarrassed someone with a move in a game where everyone knows the defenceman wasn’t really trying anyway either. No one wants to shoot because it’s all about the best players passing it around to try and create the perfect goal instead of just playing hockey. The best part for the past number of years has been the last few minutes of the game when players finally put a little desperation in to try and accomplish something lasting before time expires: Enter the new format.
My thoughts on the 3 on 3 overtime the NHL has adopted this season will be talked about in an upcoming post but leaving that out of it, I like the idea of breaking the one long game up into three separate shorter ones. The players will naturally come alive earlier because there’s less time to make an impact. Plus, if the score gets out of hand early in a game it won’t matter because there’s two other ones. Having the “tournament” format adds an exciting element of consequence for losing and motivation for winning besides money. The viewers will also be treated to a little bit of a rush with more instant gratification. They’ll go through an albeit less intense version of the emotional roller coaster you get from one meaningful game, and they’ll get to experience it three times. A 3-2 goal in the first period of a long traditional All-Star game means nothing because there’s obviously going to be a lot more to come. A 3-2 goal in a 20 minute game is much more exciting. Fans aren’t going to want to leave the room because they won’t want to miss it, and players are going to try harder and more often to score it (and stop it as well).
I really don’t think this is a good idea long term because the fatigue a player experiences in a 3 on 3 is not something we should be exposing our all star players to on an annual basis on a weekend everyone else gets to rest. I also think the 3 on 3 hockey takes away too many other crucial elements of the sport for a hockey lover to not quickly become bored watching it.  There’s too much difference from a normal game to not eventually turn new fans who only tune into the all-star game away from the sport when they try to watch regular games on a regular basis and realize it’s not the same thing. Verdict: I think for the short term this will be a positive thing for ratings and interest in the weekend, but I really hope someone has a follow up plan for maintaining the interest from the new viewership.