The 61st NHL All-Star Game will take place this upcoming Sunday, Jan. 31, at Bridgestone Arena.
This year, the NHL is going to switch up the format a little bit…actually, quite a bit. Rather than the normal 60-minute game divided into three 20-minute periods, there will be three 20-minute games conducted in a playoff fashion.
In the first game, the All-Stars of the Atlantic Division will play the Metropolitan Division All-Stars. Likewise, the Central Division All-Stars will battle the All-Stars of the Pacific Division in the second game. The winning team of the first game will play the victors of the second game in the third and final mini-game of the night. If any of the games remain tied at the end of 20 minutes, there will be no overtime. Everything will be decided with three-round shootouts. And here’s the kicker – every game will be played in a 3-on-3 format.
It seems as though the NHL has been a bit gung-ho with the 3-on-3 format this year. The decision to play the All-Star Game with teams of three skaters per shift comes not long after the decision to instate the 3-on-3 format in the overtime period. It seems like a good idea to make the overtime period 3-on-3. No one wants to see the fate of a close, hard-fought game fall on the shoulders of a shootout, and so far, this format has seemingly reduced this outcome. According to Adam Gretz of CBS Sports Network, 67 percent of the games that went past regulation in the first three months of the season were settled before the shootout. That percentage is up from the 40 percent we saw in the first three months of last season when OT was 4-on-4. That trend has seemed to hold in recent months, too.
However, I’m not so sure about the NHL’s intentions of instating the 3-on-3 format in the All-Star Game. With a combined total of six players on the ice, there will surely be a larger amount of open ice for offensive play, and consequently an increased chance for goals. However, last year’s All-Star Game was already high-scoring. The crowd at last year’s All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio saw the team captained by Jonathan Toews outscore Nick Foligno’s team 17-12. You don’t have to know much about hockey to understand that that is not a normal scoring pace. Both the New York Islanders’ John Tavares and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Jakub Voracek had four goals during that game.
If the NHL is trying to attract more viewership with a high-scoring, 3-on-3 format, this tactic seems a bit deceptive to me. If a person unfamiliar to hockey was to see insane action like that, it’s almost like a false reading and false promise of what the league and the sport truly are. Lately, it’s as though many sports milk their forms of an All-Star Game for publicity rather than for honoring the sport, the players and the fans. Too often, leagues try to boost offense to attract viewers, but skillful defense, if understood and appreciated, can be just as impressive.
But who knows, the playoff format may be interesting. It shakes up the system, and if you have an allegiance to your favorite team’s division, you’ll be forced to root for players on divisional rival teams. Imagine that.