3-on-3 tournament to replace NHL all-star game
League aims to boost interest in annual exhibition
Anyone watching the NHL all-star game in recent years knew it was broken, so the league and players are trying something different to fix it.
A three-on-three tournament featuring teams from the four divisions will replace the traditional game at the 2016 NHL all-star weekend in Nashville on Jan. 31. The official announcement of the new format was made Wednesday night.
The change, which required approval from players, drew positive reviews around the league based largely on how unpopular the old format was.
"I just think the all-star game's fantastic for those who attend it," Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "As far as being a spectator sport on TV, it sure hasn't been that."
The goal is to infuse something into the all-star game, without going to the lengths that Major League Baseball has. The MLB all-star game decides home-field advantage in the World Series.
That's an extreme, but Maple Leafs Players' Association representative Daniel Winnik said the consensus was that the game "got a little stale and wasn't very entertaining."
"It was pretty much just pond hockey with guys that didn't care too much," Winnik said. "I think this'll bring more excitement with the three-on-three. We have it in overtime, and I think with the prize pool that there's going to be, guys are going to want to play hard and win."
All-star teams from the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions and the Central and Pacific Divisions will play 20 minutes of three-on-three with the Eastern and Western Conference champions facing off after. The 11 players on the winning team will split $1 million US, so just over $90,900 apiece.
Each team will have six forwards, three defencemen and two goalies. One player from each division will be determined in fan voting and the remaining 40 players will be selected by the NHL hockey operations department, with at least one player from each NHL team.
Winnik, who was part of the discussions about whether to approve three-on-three in the all-star game, said there was some concern about it being more physically exerting than the present format but added, "I'd do that for a chance at a million bucks."
Blackhawks all-star Patrick Kane told Chicago reporters in Edmonton that "it's not a bad idea to try something different." Coach Joel Quenneville hopes it's a good change.
"I think that trying to mix it up so there's competitiveness, there's some fun, but guys are playing for (something) keeps in a way where all of a sudden they're playing real hockey," Quenneville said in Edmonton. "It's hard watching sometimes when you know that the guys who are out there, they're playing, but the pace of the game isn't anything close to be representative of how they normally play."
Predators all-star defenceman Roman Josi told the Nashville Tennessean that in past years "everybody gets bored from the game because there's no intensity."
"We've got to do something," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said in Ottawa. "A 16-14 hockey game's not a very fun game. There's an incentive for the winning team. A fairly large one, I believe. I think it'll be fun for a year or two, anyway."
The previous format of captains drafting teams lasted three all-star games, 2011 in Raleigh, N.C., 2012 in Ottawa and 2015 in Columbus. The game has existed in some form since October 1947, when the Stanley Cup-champion Leafs played the NHL all-stars at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Team Toews beat Team Foligno 17-12 last year, and typically the all-star game is an offensive showcase and a nightmare for goaltenders. Three-on-three won't help the netminders' cause.
"It's going to be awful, probably," said Toronto starter James Reimer, who set the over-under for goals at 40. "I think the eight goalies that get picked, it's going to be like a death sentence."
Reimer felt good stopping some shots during three-on-three time at practice and then the floodgates opened.
"All of a sudden bam-bam, three goals out of nowhere," he said. "I just went from feeling good to allowing three goals in 10 seconds. It could be pretty wild."
If nothing else, a three-on-three tournament should add some spice to the weekend in Music City.
"I think it would be really cool," Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. "I think it will be a good chance to see what the best players in the world can do when they have a little more room, a little more time."
The NHL all-star skills competition will be played Jan. 30.