Any change to spice up the NHL All-Star Game is probably a good thing, and that was the initial opinion by most inside the hockey world Wednesday when the league made it official by announcing that January’s showcase in Nashville will be a 3-on-3 tournament.
The new format will consist of three 20-minute games played by divisional All-Star teams. The Central Division will face the Pacific Division, the Metropolitan Division will face the Atlantic, and the two winners will play for a championship and $1 million winner-take-all incentive to, you know, actually try.
“It should be exciting for fans to watch,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who represented the Wild in last year’s All-Star Game in Columbus. “I think the game just got stale. It’s tough to create an actual hockey game.”
The only criticism by many is the divisional format. Each team will be composed of 11 players (six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies) for a total of 44 players. All 30 teams must have one representative, so just do the math.
There are 16 teams in the East, eight per division, meaning that alone is eight of each team’s 11 players. That will mean an astronomical amount of snubs.
“I think it’s really good the idea of the 3-on-3 tournament, but I don’t know about the divisions,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who could actually be the Wild All-Star favorite by process of elimination. “I think it’s a good idea to create a tournament environment, but the idea of the All-Star Game is to have the best players at it.
“A perfect argument is the stacked Central Division. I mean, there’s going to be no way not to shake your head at who doesn’t make the team.”
He’s not kidding.
It’s hard to imagine the Central-leading Dallas Stars not having three players — star forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin and defenseman John Klingberg. Forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could be Chicago Blackhawks locks, as is St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko.
Forward Blake Wheeler makes the most sense to represent Winnipeg. There’s your six forwards, meaning if you’re Minnesota, deserving captain Mikko Koivu, who missed his only All-Star nod in 2012 because of an injury, wouldn’t have a shot, nor would Zach Parise or Jason Zucker.
Colorado needs a player. It would probably be defenseman Tyson Barrie or defenseman Erik Johnson. If the league feels compelled to give the host Predators a second representative beyond shoo-in goalie Pekka Rinne, deserving Roman Josi or Shea Weber would be that guy. Remember, Klingberg would be the likely third D.
So, that means Dubnyk has a real shot to represent the Wild as the division’s second goalie. If Josi or Weber aren’t on the team, Suter would be the likely Wild choice over Dubnyk because it’s hard to envision any Minnesota forward besting the others.
That’s 11 Central players, and we’re not even talking about players like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nathan MacKinnon, James Neal, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Bryan Little or Dustin Byfuglien.
“That’s just dumb,” Suter said of only six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies coming out of each of the four divisions. “Your All-Star Game should be your top players … and then you split them up however.”
One reason for the divisional format is the NHLPA wanted to get rid of the Fantasy Draft that began in 2011. Players didn’t like being picked last, the novelty seemed to wear off and last year players dipped too much into the cocktails.
Still, Dubnyk thinks they could have come up with something better.
“Just pick guys and don’t make it a spectacle then if you don’t want a live draft,” he said. “Get a piece of paper, get the captains in a back room, and there’s your team.”
NHL short takes
An eye to the West
As first reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Islanders top-four defenseman Travis Hamonic asked to be traded to a Western Canadian team close to his Manitoba home for family reasons. He has since expanded his list to include Minnesota and Colorado, and Wild sources confirmed Thursday that the Islanders and Wild have spoken.
However, GM Chuck Fletcher had not yet talked to Hamonic’s agent, Kevin Epp, Fletcher is more inclined to address the forward position via trade, and the price for Hamonic is substantial, including a top-four defenseman.
The Wild is already at the cap ceiling, and Hamonic has five years left on his contract at $3.85 million annually.
Former Islanders draft pick Jared Spurgeon has a year left on his contract and is two years from unrestricted free agency, so acquiring him would be a risk for the Islanders. If the Wild chose to ultimately go the Hamonic route, Jonas Brodin, in the first of a six-year deal worth $4.16 million per year, might make the most sense, with similar-style Gustav Olofsson on the verge of being an NHL regular. Brodin has one goal and one assist in 18 games and continues to leave you wanting more.
Plea for one voice
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk thinks the Toronto Situation Room should make all goalie interference coach’s challenge decisions, not the refs. “Does every referee understand it the same way?” he said. “You walk a fine line because you don’t want to take referees out of it, and that’s part of sport. But at the same time, if you had the same people making the decisions every night, I’d imagine you’d find a lot more consistency.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Wednesday: 6 p.m. vs. Vancouver
Friday: 3 p.m. vs. Winnipeg
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Dallas
Player to watch:
John Klingberg, Stars
The NHL’s top-scoring defenseman lit the Wild up last weekend by scoring an overtime winner and getting two assists in the Stars’ 3-2 victory over the Wild.
“It’s surreal. When I get back tonight, I’ll make sure to close my eyes and think about it.”
Wild defenseman Gustav Olofsson after his NHL debut Thursday in Boston.