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The All-Star Game's newest skills competition has real promise

Having players launch pucks from the stands combines all the elements that make an event successful: drama, skill and creativity. And it's not always easy to find an idea that checks all the boxes.

We can all be pretty fickle about the All-Star Game and its skills competition, but I am totally on board with the new Shooting Stars event that will debut in St. Louis. The concept is for players to shoot pucks off an elevated platform 30 feet above the ice in an attempt to hit targets on the rink below. It’s something we’ve seen in various forms in commercials or team videos (Pittsburgh did it with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for example) and it sounds Super Fun.

Coming up with events for the skills competition isn’t as easy as it may seem. For an event to be successful, you definitely need player buy-in and we have seen some flops in that regard lately: just think of the best in the league slogging through the Puck Control contest in recent years (those light-up gates are the devil!) or struggling to nail the mini-nets in Premier Passer.

The thing is, passing a puck into those mini-nets is incredibly hard and the players themselves will note that their peers who can do it are showing off amazing skill and precision. I will note, however, that it is horrible for television and everyone in attendance – which is the whole thrust of the weekend.

Some events at ASG are bulletproof: Hardest Shot, Fastest Skater and Shooting Accuracy are all perfect conceits for TV and I would never change them. You’d think a breakaway challenge could have been hockey’s version of the NBA Slam Dunk contest, but the inclusion of goalies (necessary, of course) and the hockey culture’s shyness about looking silly meant that the event never really hit the heights it could have (though there was usually at least one great moment per year).

But I have hope for Shooting Stars. Aesthetically, it’s got a lot going for it. Height and distance give it a ‘wow’ factor and the drama of watching the puck sail through the air for a few seconds before it gets near its target. I wonder if it will be like watching pro golfers try to hit a hole-in-one on a par 3, for example.

And it does satisfy the skill angle that I know the folks behind the competition are always striving for. Not only that, but I feel like the players are going to go in for this one in a major way, especially if they are surrounded by fans near the platform.

Plus, this gets us closer to the event I have always wanted to see: a Street Fighter II-style competition where an old car is placed on the ice and players have one minute to do as much damage as possible by shooting pucks at it. Naturally you would have a bunch of tarps and other protective measures around it so no broken glass hit anyone or fell on the ice, but tell me you wouldn’t watch Shea Weber destroy an old Buick Skylark with his slapshot for 60 seconds. You know that video is going viral – what if he put one through the door?

Perhaps the insurance needed for such an event would be pre-emptive, but I choose to live in an aspirational world where things get smashed up real good in the name of fun. In the meantime, watching Elias Pettersson or Auston Matthews loft pucks across an entire arena while the crowd goes wild sounds like something that will more than suffice.

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