With sagging television ratings and a lack of enthusiasm from players, the NHL has made some drastic changes to its All-Star Game format.
This season's game will feature a three-on-three tournament between teams comprised of players from the league's four divisions. Each game will be 20 minutes long and will feature at least one player from all 30 teams. Players from the winning divisional team will split a pot of $1 million.
In recent years, a traditional 60-minute regulation game was played between teams which were drafted from a pool of all-stars two days prior to the game. The change, which was worked out by the NHL and NHLPA, was necessary for a variety of reasons.
“The All-Star Game should generate maybe a little more ratings,” said Penguins center Nick Bonino, the team's representative to the NHLPA. I think [the league was] unhappy with the ratings. The skills competition got pretty good ones. They kept that. [The player draft] Friday night, they scrapped because no one really watched it. Same with the [traditional format of the] All-Star Game. So this maybe gives a little more awareness to three-on-three overtime format. Hopefully fans can see a little more skill and some wide open ice.”
The games often times amounted to little more than a game of shinny by the world's best players. There was little in the way of hard skating or physical play.
“I watched last year's [game],” said center Sidney Crosby. “It's tough. You can tell there's not a ton of intensity. You wouldn't really expect it to be in an All-Star Game. I think something to switch it up is probably not a bad idea.”
As a concession in changing the game, the NHL agreed to grant teams a five-day “bye-week” from next seasons' schedule. Teams will not play games for a period of at least five days and players will be excused from all team activities such as practices during that time span.
The NHL's bye weeks would be similar to the NFL's format which gives groups of teams bye weeks throughout the season.
“You see football, they have a bye week and they can kind of recover,” said Bonino. “We play a lot of games. Some teams coming right in before the All-Star break will get games right before then right after. I think some teams will get seven days. I think they just wanted to make a level playing field with rest there.”
ESPN first reported the deal which is still being ironed out.
“I don't know if it's been fully accepted yet,” Bonino said. “I know it's in talks with the league but all of it's on a one-year basis. So it's kind of a trial period to see how the All-Star Game goes, see how the bye week goes. If we do it, then we can negotiate from there.”
According to Bonino, the bye weeks are expected to take place in either January or February.
“I like that a lot,” said Crosby. “At the end of the day, you kind of get those breaks. We get those in October. We get a long period of time without games in October. I'm sure it will end up having to be maybe an extra back-to-back [set of games] because of that somewhere. But I think every team, to know you're going to get that, is a nice luxury to have.”
(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)