It’s Time To Go Back To The Basics For All-Star Weekend

The All-Star game has come and gone once again. The weekend had it’s share of great moments, and it appeared to be a successful event in San Jose. As a kid, I LOVED All-Star weekend. I was on the edge of my seat for both the Skills Competition and the game itself. The weekend is meant for the kids mostly from a fan perspective (in reality, it’s all about the sponsors), but it has honestly gotten less enjoyable to watch as time has gone on because of some of the changes they’ve made. I still enjoy the Skills Competition, but I definitely think that they can make it better.

Perhaps the best story to come out of the weekend was the impact that the women in the skills competition had. Kendall Coyne Schofield from team USA was impressive in the Fastest Skater competition. Brianna Decker was perhaps even more impressive in the Premier Passer event. Her run wasn’t officially clocked by the NHL, but someone in the stands took a video and timed her. They said that her time was actually faster than eventual winner Leon Draisaitl’s time was! That sparked the #PayDecker campaign. People wanted the NHL to step up and pay her the $25,000 USD that went to the winner of the event since she was the rightful winner of the event. However, the NHL apparently went back and reviewed their own video, and they came to the conclusion that her time was slower than Draisaitl’s. Her equipment sponsor, CCM, stepped up and gave her $25,000 USD.

Canadians Rebecca Johnston and Renata Fast were also a part of the Skills Competition. Whatever your opinion on how the NHL handled the situation is, it was truly great to see the women have an opportunity to showcase their skills on such a big stage. Anything that can help grow the game is a positive in my eyes. It’s huge for young girls to see their hockey idols on the same ice surface as the NHL stars. Hopefully this is a trend that continues going forward.

As far as the rest of the Skills competition goes, it was awesome to see both of our Oilers win events. Draisaitl won the Premier Passer event, and Connor McDavid won the Fastest Skater event for the 3rd consecutive year. It’s nice for them to get to win SOMETHING for once.

I was glad to see that they did the Fastest Skater competition the way that they did this year. That’s the way it was when I was a kid, and it was great! They have tried a few different variations of the event in past years, but nothing has been nearly as good as the current one lap from a standing start format. The fact that Dylan Larkin has the record because he competed in a year where the competitors were allowed a running start frustrates me to no end! I look forward to the day when McDavid claims his stake on that record. The mascot race between SJ Sharkie and Gritty was a nice touch!

The Puck Control Relay was my favourite as a kid. It used to be a race between two skaters. They would go through the pylons and have a quick sprint to the finish. The races were always exciting! The way they’ve done it the last two years hasn’t been nearly as enjoyable to watch. I don’t mind the stick handling through the pucks part. It’s the fact that the whole competition comes down to who can survive the towers that bothers me. At first, I thought it was refreshing to see pros struggle at something. I quickly came to find that watching them struggle is PAINFUL. I say that it’s time to go back to the race format for that event. Incorporate some different obstacles other than just pylons if you must, but get rid of the towers.

Speaking of watching the players struggle being PAINFUL, they need to do away with the Premier Passer event. It’s not fun to watch the guys struggle. Having the players struggle is not showcasing the skill of your players. It’s hard to maintain someone’s attention when you’ve got a guy struggling to get passes into a tiny net and hit tiny targets that light up at random times for 2 minutes. It’s frustrating to watch guys hit the light-up targets multiple times only to have it not count because the technology failed or because they didn’t time it quite right. If they insist on doing an event like that, make it like the Accuracy Shooting and only focus on the tiny net portion of it. They need to make it shorter or just get rid of the event.

The Save Streak event is kind of interesting. The goalies need to be involved somehow, and the breakaways are fun to watch as well. After saying that, I’m glad that they did away with having this event AND the King of the Shootout event because it was just too much of the same thing. An idea that I’ve had in the past was a 2-on-1 competition for the goalies where they face a series of 2-on-1s and see who can make the most saves. It would be a way for the goalies to showcase their athleticism more.

The Hardest Shot used to be the most-anticipated event. It’s a pretty hard event to mess up, but I think the NHL found a way this year. They only had 4 competitors, and they only got 2 shots each. I understand the need to make it go quicker, but I think they went too far with that for the event this year. In other years, there were 8 shooters, and there would be a final between the top two competitors. They could have taken some time away from the Premier Passer event and given it to the Hardest Shot event. It’s going to be tough to maintain interest in that event going forward because so few players use slap shots in games anymore. The other reason it will be tough to maintain interest going forward is because I can’t see anyone breaking Chara’s record. They could go back to a format where they have more participants and a final between the top two shooters to add some intrigue to it.

I don’t have a big problem with the Accuracy Shooting, but I wish that they hadn’t added the extra target because it makes it impossible to beat the record from the past. That is definitely a part of what makes the Skills Competition fun to watch. It’s fun to see guys break records. If they continually change the events, then the records become meaningless (see Larkin’s Fastest Skater record). I also miss the exploding foam targets, but I see the value in the light-up targets as a time saving mechanism as well.

Something I’d like to see in the future is a One-Timer Challenge where guys have to hit a target with one-timers. They have incorporated that concept into the Oilers Skills Competition, but they only use our defencemen for that part of it, and let’s be real… that is not their strength. It would be interesting to see the game’s elite shooters do an event like that while receiving passes from the best passers in the game. It could be another way to showcase passing as an ability too.
As for the game itself, I’m not sure what to do about that to make it more enjoyable. It has never been as good as when it was East vs West in a regular 5-on-5 format. They’ve tried North America vs the World, an All-Star draft, and the current 3-on-3 format. 3-on-3 overtime is exciting as hell, but the format for an All-Star game has its flaws.

For starters, there are a lot of deserving players that get excluded simply because 3-on-3 takes up so few spots. Also, there are 2 teams that you only get to see for one period. I’d be frustrated at only getting to see McDavid play for one period. Also, 3-on-3 lends itself to more slacking off because covering that much ice is exhausting. People cite the players not trying hard as a reason that they don’t watch the game, so why are we making it more exhausting for the players? I don’t get it.
As a kid, the excitement for me was about getting to see certain players play with other players that they normally wouldn’t get the chance to play with. Having so few players on each roster and limiting it to teams based on the divisions limits the amount of combinations that fans can see. The combinations that we do get to see will become redundant. McDavid with Burns or Doughty is old to me already.

We as fans also need to accept that an All-Star game is never going to be as competitive as a regular season game. It’s meant to be a fun thing where the players can show off their skills in a relaxed atmosphere. I think the league needs to stop with the crazy experiments that are meant to make the All-Star game more enjoyable because most of them fail to do that. They need to go back to the basics in my opinion. I’d like to see the league revert back to the old formats for their events in the Skills Competition, and the East vs West 5-on-5 format for the game itself. As much as I like the way it used to be, I’d also like to see the women involved in the Skills Competition more. I wouldn’t be opposed to them taking part in the game either.

As much as I think the league could improve the weekend, I’ll continue to tune in if I can because I like having the All-Star weekend. I’ll be excited when it comes to Edmonton. I just hope that they revert back to the basics by then.

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