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NHL splits divisions for skills competition, winner gets All-Star Game options

The NHL raised the stakes for the All-Star Game by putting down a $1-million prize in 2016, and now they’ve added a wrinkle to the skills competition by giving the winning division the chance to choose their game time and semi-final opponent for Sunday’s tournament.
via NHL

via NHL

The overall format of the NHL All-Star Game isn’t changing all that much, but one important alteration to the skills competition could have an impact on which division walks out of Los Angeles with the $1-million prize.

After the successful 3-on-3 divisional tournament in Nashville at the All-Star Game last season, the four divisions will once again compete in a two-round, single elimination tournament for the grand prize and the All-Star Game title. However, unlike the past tournament in which the two conferences pitted their divisions against each other in the semi-final, the skills competition will play an important role in setting up the 3-on-3 tournament.

Instead of continuing the tradition of having the two conferences compete in a large skills competition, this year’s event, which is set for Saturday, Jan. 28, will feature all four divisions competing against each other in the individual events. While the events for the skills competition haven’t been announced, it already puts higher stakes on each individual contest for bragging rights within the division.

Beyond that, though, the league has established a pair of extra perks for the division that emerges from the skills competition victorious, giving the winning group the right to choose their semi-final opponent for Sunday’s All-Star Game and also selecting the playing time. That opens up the opportunity for cross-conference play in the opening games of the All-Star Game’s 3-on-3 tournament and the possibility of an all Eastern or Western Conference final.

Each 20-minute game, which will feature an end-change at the 10-minute mark, will be played consecutively with intermission style breaks between each contest. The winning division will, if they so choose, have the right to play their game to open the day's events and rest up for the final or keep their legs moving by competing in the second game of the tournament before taking just a short break before the final.

Even if there’s no real marked advantage to playing in either game, giving the winning division some sort of prize for winning the skills competition at least adds some stakes to an exhibition that simply hasn’t mattered all that much. Fun to watch, undoubtedly, but the event had no real impact on anything else that took place throughout the weekend. Maybe with the right to choose the playing time on Sunday, some of the players go that much harder during one of the skill challenges.

As for the game itself, the final of last year’s tournament was a 1-0 game that even featured Team Atlantic pulling goaltender Ben Bishop with less than two minutes left in an attempt to get the tying goal. It’s no regular season or playoff game, to be sure, but the players wound up taking the final at least somewhat seriously.

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