The NHL all-star game needs to be scrapped. Not entirely, just removed from its current date on the calendar, the weekend before the Super Bowl.
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Maybe we were spoiled when the NHL decided to participate in the Olympics in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 only to have that dramatic elite-level competition ripped from our grasp in 2018.
The all-star game doesn't cut it anymore, especially after being treated to a dramatic best-on-best Olympic hockey tournament five times.
The league itself knows this. As evidence, we present the way the NHL has tinkered with the all-star game format over the past two decades.
The East-West format was shifted to North America versus the World, back to East-West, to the draft-style event, and now in its fourth year the four-division 3-on-3 tournament
This year the all-star game has been moved from its traditional Sunday afternoon time slot to Saturday evening. Look, the NHL all-star game is important to places like San Jose this weekend or Tampa Bay a year ago, just like outdoor spectacles have heightened interest in the game in various locales over the past 15 years.
The all-star game generates a sack full of money for the hockey-related revenues component of the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players. And, up for grabs, is $ 1-million US prize pool for the winning team to divide, a $ 7,500 appearance fee for each player and an additional $ 150,000 is allocated for the skills competition winners.
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Ovie skipping all-star game
Some players, however, want no part of it. Alex Ovechkin is skipping the weekend, likely because he still is upset the Olympics were taken away from him last year even though Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was willing to let him go.
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price also won't find his way to San Jose. He would rather rest up for his team's final 10-week push to the playoffs. This weekend, more than anything else, is a smooze-fest for the league and its corporate sponsors. But for most ardent hockey fans, the all-star game is nothing more than a snooze-fest.
So why not move the all-star game back to the beginning of the season, where it once was housed and where it belongs. It would be the perfect the way to garner interest for the upcoming season.
Every September, a few days before training camps are set to commence, the league invites its top players and the media to the New York area to promote the season. Why not marry that event with the all-star game?
What should replace the all-star game in the mid-season slot? How about a competition that actually counts in the regular-season race for playoff spots? I'm a casual fan of the Premier League in England. I like the way the PL occasionally takes a break from the regular season for other soccer competitions like the FA Cup. (I also like the importance the PL places on its regular-season title. There is not enough prominence put on winning the 82-game long Presidents' Trophy in the NHL. But that discussion is for another column).
In place of the NHL all-star game, we propose the league split up and play eight four-team, home-and-home, round-robin competitions over the final two weeks in January. Each four-team tourney would have its own Cup, no doubt in today's sporting world with a corporate handle. Here's how we see the new 32-team league being geographically divided (these groupings can be debated, too):
- Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle.
- Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg.
- Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, Vegas.
- Chicago, Detroit Minnesota, St. Louis
- Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay.
- New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia.
- Boston, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Washington.
- Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto.
The players still get their precious week off, but only this time during Super Bowl week.
A semblance of this idea originally was put forth by retired New York Post hockey beat writer Mark Everson years ago when the NHL was a 24-team league. He had the competitions divided into three-team tournaments.
I think the proposed four-team, mid-season competition is worth a try. What do you think?