The format for the All Star contest has changed in recent years
Being a hockey town of the highest order, Tampa and the surrounding Tampa Bay area know all the beats of what Stompin’ Tom Connors called “the best game you can name.”
Games are 60 minutes, with two fifteen minute intermissions to space out the action. Teams start out with five skaters and a goalie. It’s simple, and once you’ve seen it it’s the game you always come to expect.
The NHL All Star Game is not a typical hockey game. In reality, it’s a combination of three consecutive short games. Those games are almost custom-built to show off fast skaters and accurate shooters. The details:
-Each division gets their own All Star team. The Lightning’s selected players, then, will all be playing for the Atlantic.
-Since each conference has two divisions, the “semi-finals” take place between the two divisions of each respective conference. The Atlantic Division, ostensibly the host team, will play the Metropolitan Division.
-All three games take place over two ten minute halves, meaning these are the only hockey games with a halftime. In the event of a tie at the end of the second half, the game will immediately go to a shootout.
-Rosters for each team are limited to eleven people, two of whom have to be goaltenders.
Tampa Bay’s representatives are head coach Jon Cooper, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, and forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Victor Hedman was also selected to the team, but will be unable to play due to injury. The good news for Lightning fans is that he’ll be replaced by Brayden Point. The Bolts’ four selections lead the league, and they’re the only team in the Atlantic that is sending more than one player to the game.
The NHL has perhaps the best pre-All Star event. The NHL Skills Competition is one of the most exciting nights of the entire hockey year, with players being put through a speed-skating competition of sorts, a shooting competition, a goaltending display, and a puckhandling competition.
Granted, the Saturday night event is going to be complicated by how it happens to coincide with the Gasparilla parade. Perhaps this adds a sort of fan event to the skills competition: The synchronized downtown parking event, which will be a grueling display of finding a garage that has open spots and fitting one’s car into one of those open spots.
While there have been complaints about 3-on-3 hockey during the NHL’s new regular season overtime rules, and the shootout concept gets mixed reviews at absolute best, the refined format suits the All Star contest very well.
Never forget that All Star games are almost entirely exhibitions. Outside of Major League Baseball, nothing of sporting significance short of bragging rights is ever at stake in these games.
This does not have to mean a watered-down version of the sport, but it often does. All Star games will pretty much never be described as “chippy” affairs the way many hockey games are. For the most part, forwards are on display in the NHL version of the game, and therefore moving to an offense-friendly format is likely the right move. 3-on-3 hockey means more room for flashy passing, more skating on display, more clear shooting lanes, and a quicker pace of action in general. That is not to say defense is not welcome. To this point in the three year history of the format, the most famous moment revolved around a traditional “enforcer” style defenseman making a star turn on the star stage.
For the Lightning players involved, this should give the opportunity to have a strong game. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos especially should thrive with open space in front of them, the way they’ve proven adept at it throughout this season. Given Kucherov’s scoring prowess, he would have to be among the MVP favorites coming in, much the way he’s already among the Hart Trophy favorites.
This is also a format that should make coach Jon Cooper look good, as it lends itself to a shoot-first style of fast-moving hockey. Less defensive resistance will lead to more of the opportunities Cooper values most in his teams, real or All Star.