The format of the NHL annual All-Star Game is in for a significant restructuring.
That was the most significant news coming out of the NHL GM meetings in Toronto on Tuesday. Specific details of the changes were not made official as the league was still hashing out specifics with the NHL Players’ Association, but according to a Canadian Press report, it will involve a pair of captains choosing teams made up from players in either conference based on a pool selected by fan vote.
Brendan Shanahan – the NHL’s vice-president of hockey and business development and one of the chief proponents behind the move – believes the process will conclude in the next one or two days and the changes will be in place for the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C.
“If you look at the All-Star Game, we know what it is and we know what it’s not,” Shanahan said at a north Toronto hotel where the GM meetings were held. “In the end, it’s an entertaining, fun game and fans like to be entertained by the players showing their competitive spirit with a big smile on their face.
“It’s not a Stanley Cup final, it’s not an Olympic game, it’s never going to be that. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to ask players to run each other through the boards, because that’s not what it is.”
Shanahan said the key to revitalizing the All-Star Game – to many, a shabby, contact-free facsimile of a typical NHL game – is to tap into players’ competitive natures.
“You can put a camera on some guys at the end of practice playing a little 2-on-2 for a juice or a Gatorade in the locker room, or even those soccer games they play when they’re warming up,” Shanahan said. “You see the competitive spirit come out in the players and it’s a matter of us trying to find ways to capture that.”
Shanahan also believes there doesn’t have to be an increased financial payout to physically overtaxed players to get them to compete in a game that doesn’t register in the standings.
“I remember the Edmonton Oilers were famous for their ping-pong tournaments they used to have – guys were twisting ankles diving for balls,” he said. “To me, the way to capture the competitiveness of a player at the All-Star Game is not necessarily to make the carrot any bigger. It’s just a matter of tapping into (players’) own natural competitiveness, and (making it) something that’s fun for them as well as for the fans.”
Also on the agenda at the GM meetings was the concept of a coach’s challenge – i.e. a chance for coaches to revisit an on-ice official’s call. But that suggestion had no traction for anybody other than the man who proposed it, Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon.
“In a sport like football, they have seven-second plays and they can analyze a lot of things quickly,” said Washington Capitals GM George McPhee. “Our game is so continuous, we don’t think (a coaching challenge is) necessary. I think the referees do a good enough job. From time to time they’re going to make mistakes, but such is life.”
Similarly, Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s 3-on-3 overtime concept was shot down by GMs at the meetings, as was NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell’s proposed changes to cut back on player confrontations in pre-game warm-ups.
Finally, the league’s newly implemented crackdown on blindside head shots received near-universal acclaim from GMs.
“We think that’s going pretty well,” McPhee said of the rule, which bans lateral targeted hits to an opponent’s head. “The important thing is to give this the year to play out and let (the players) follow our mandate, and see how it goes, and then we’ll revisit it.”
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Wednesdays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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