By now you've probably heard the news about the NHL's 3-on-3 All-Star Game format for 2016 in Nashville. It pits each division against each other in a four-team tournament, likely with 11-man rosters, and quite possibly with a million bucks going to the winning squad. Wow. I'll go on the record and declare this whole idea awesome. The fantasy draft format was fun in recent years, but the All-Star Game is at its best when it keeps morphing and innovating. Good on the NHL for trying something wild, especially given the actual game's diminished reputation. If the public perception is that the players don't try anymore, the league has nothing to lose in changing things up.
It will be interesting to see how players react and, once all-star teams are selected, which ones will pull out to rest their bodies (sorry, but I just can't picture Sidney Crosby suiting up. He has played in one – ONE! – All-Star Game). But, for the sake of prognostication, let's assume all teams are equal. Which division can ice the best 3-on-3 lineup?
4th place: PACIFIC DIVISION
Martin Jones' .918 save percentage ties him for 17th among qualified leaders yet leads all qualified Pacific Division netminders. He and Jonathan Quick have the inside track to represent their division in net, but the other divisions will counter with netminders playing hotter regular season hockey. We know Quick is as good as anyone in big games, though…would the monetary reward bring out Playoff Quick?
The likes of Drew Doughty, Brent Burns and Oliver Ekman-Larsson could lead 3-on-3 rushes for Team Pacific beautifully. And this roster has a lot of speed and youth up front, assuming Taylor Hall, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Tyler Toffoli make the team. It would be pretty fun to see Daniel and Henrik Sedin crack the lineup and enjoy a veteran Cinderella run. Still, the Pacific lacks megastar power, especially with the struggling Ryan Getzlaf and slowly thawing Corey Perry in tough to make the team.
3rd place: ATLANTIC DIVISION
No team is better equipped to lead the rush from the back end than the Atlantic squad. Erik Karlsson may not approve of 3-on-3 hockey, but he's still born to play it. Toss in P.K. Subban and Victor Hedman and the Atlantic's puck-movers trump everyone else's. Carey Price should start for this team if he's remotely healthy by winter, as fan votes alone should install him as the No. 1 netminder.
The Atlantic's forward corps doesn't look like it'll hang with the big boys, though. Steven Stamkos can, of course, and Max Pacioretty has been great this year, but who else will threaten the other teams with elite offense? Henrik Zetterberg might make the team. Maybe Pavel Datsyuk if he hits his stride after recovering from ankle surgery. The Atlantic doesn't have enough big-ticket offensive players, especially with Tampa Bay's Triplet line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat split up and injured (Palat).
2nd place: METROPOLITAN DIVISION
Here's where we get the big, flashy star power. Imagine Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on the first line, anchored by Kris Letang or John Carlson. Maybe Team Metro moves Evgeni Malkin to the wing and plays him on a second unit with John Tavares. Holy cow. And imagine if Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek figure things out in time to make the squad. Helluva third unit. Maybe Rick Nash and Ryan Johansen as your fourth forward pair, if you even need one?
The caveat, of course, is many of the Metro's top stars are playing so poorly that they're in jeopardy of not making the all-star teams at all. That includes Crosby, who has nine points in 18 games. Though the fan vote would likely save him. The thought of Crosby needing a Rory Fitzpatrick groundswell to earn a Nashville ticket is mind-boggling. Plenty of time for him to right the ship, however. The Metro's goaltending looks rock solid, too. Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist and Cory Schneider would likely get the nods.
1st place: CENTRAL DIVISION
Before you read why the Central will own 3-on-3, watch why:
No need to speculate. We can see how much the Dallas Stars' trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg dominates 3-on-3. They rank second, third and eighth, respectively, in NHL scoring. May as well keep that unit together. Then, for a second trio, how about an all-Chicago group of NHL leading scorer Patrick Kane with Jonathan Toews at center and Duncan Keith on defense? We can assume Keith gets enough votes despite missing a month with a knee injury. Line 3: how about, oh, Nathan MacKinnon and Vladimir Tarasenko up front, with a Nashville boy, Shea Weber, anchoring the point? Whoa. Pekka Rinne, another Pred, can start in goal, backed by Jake Allen and Corey Crawford.
I'd expect a fair amount of parity in the 3-on-3 tournament, no doubt. But the Central combines high-end skill, youth and speed better than the other three divisions. It would have my vote to take home the all-star prize.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin