When the National Hockey League announced in October of 2014 that Nashville would host the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, plans were set into motion by the Nashville Predators organization to make it the best All-Star Weekend that hockey has ever seen. Now, just over two months out from the celebration in Music City, a change the Preds hoped would happen has come to fruition.
The NHL announced on Wednesday a change in the All-Star Game format for this season’s festivities, electing to institute a 3-on-3 All-Star Tournament to be played on Sunday, Jan. 31 in place of the traditional game. Four teams, made up of the top players from each of the four divisions - Central, Pacific, Atlantic and Metropolitan - will face off in a three-game tournament with a prize pool of $1 million to be paid in its entirety to the winning team.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke of not only the excitement surrounding the change - which was first discussed a couple of years ago before gaining steam at the NHL General Managers Meetings last year - but the aspiration from the Predators for the League to enact the switch in time for the 2016 All-Star Weekend.
“Right around the start of the season, we had conversations with [Predators Owner] Tom Cigarran, conversations with [Predators CEO] Jeff Cogen, we had conversations with [Predators General Manager] David Poile, all of whom expressed a strong desire to try and change up the format if possible,” Daly said. “There’s a high level of excitement for Nashville the market, and they thought it fitting as a new market for All-Star that we try a creative format. Given that they all expressed that interest strongly, I think [NHL COO] John Collins, [NHL Commissioner] Gary [Bettman] and myself, we try to be responsive to the extent we can be responsive to our clubs especially clubs hosting all-star events. We engaged and pushed hard with the Players’ Association to try to get this done for this year.”
The deal came together last Friday after the NHL Players’ Association approved it, paving the way for just one more element of an impressive display in Nashville of the best the game of hockey has to offer.
It won’t be the first time the League has seen 3-on-3 play with regularity after 3-on-3 overtime was instituted at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, with the overwhelmingly positive early returns on the new overtime product playing a large role in determining the format.
“When we drew this up originally, we really didn’t have a whole lot of experience with 3-on-3 and even when we were considering it as an alternative for regular-season overtime, we really didn’t know what it would look like,” Daly said. “I would say the first month and a half of the season, it’s been a smashing success; it’s been some of the most compelling segments of the games.”
As for those who partake on the ice, Predators players feel the changes to the game are for the better and could add to the overall enjoyment of the weekend in Nashville.
“It’s going to be fun; it’ll be exciting for the fans, and I think the players are going to like it as well,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “You see the overtimes now and there are a lot more goals being scored in overtime versus last year. I think it’s going to be very enjoyable and it’s kind of cool that Nashville gets that first look at it.
“That’s awesome for the city, as maybe not a traditional hockey market, to get something like that for the first time; it’s exciting. Downtown is going to be buzzing, and it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne, who was named to the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus, but was unable to participate due to injury, figures to be a leading candidate once again for this year’s game. As of the men who could be tasked with facing a slew of odd-man rushes, Rinne likes the idea for the fans but had a word of advice for his fellow netminders on the subject.
“There are going to be a lot of scoring chances, so all the goalies better get their groins stretched,” Rinne quipped. “When a big change like that happens, it’s cool to be the first ones to host it. I’m sure it’s going to be exciting no matter what. It’s going to be cool to see how it plays out. Any change right now, I think it’s a good thing.”
The League feels the same. The current deal with the Players’ Association for the new format is only for 2016 as it stands now, but if all goes well, what starts in Nashville could become a staple for years to come during NHL All-Star Weekend.
“The speed and the skill, the scoring chances and the up-and-down nature of the play has been very compelling for our fans, and I think that’s exactly what these games will bring,” Daly said. “All the pieces are in place for this to be epic in terms of excitement for the Nashville fans.”
Details on the new All-Star Game format:
The predominant purpose of the facelift brought to the NHL’s revamped All-Star Game format was the desire to infuse increased speed, more excitement and a heightened level of in-game competition from the players involved. Here’s the result of the NHL and Predators efforts to create a truly memorable All-Star Weekend:
- The All-Star Game will feature tournament-style play with teams icing units of three skaters and a goaltender; in the same format of the NHL’s new overtime rules for the 2015-16 season.
- Four teams will play two semifinal games (20 minutes in length), with the winners competing in the championship game. The winning team will be awarded a prize pool of $1 million or approximately $91,000 per player.
- Forty-four players will be split into four teams made up from players within the NHL’s four divisions (Central, Pacific, Metropolitan, Atlantic).
- A fan vote will choose one player (also the captain) for each divisional team with the NHL Hockey Operations Department selecting the other 40 (each NHL team will have at least one player representative).
- Teams will consist of 11 players, six forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders.
- Each team will be coached by the bench boss of the four division-leading clubs (The four division-leading NHL coaches will be determined by the best points percentage following the completion of games on Jan. 9, 2016).
- Both of the semifinal games (Central Division All-Stars vs. Pacific Division and Atlantic Division All-Stars vs. Metropolitan Division All-Stars) will be played on Sunday with the championship game following the semis. Games are 20 minutes in length with teams switching ends at the 10-minute mark and games tied after 20 minutes going to a shootout.
As for the All-Star Skills Competition and Fantasy Draft, each will receive changes as well.
- The All-Star Skills Competition will pit the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference with the winner on Saturday night (Jan. 30, 2016) earning the right to play their semifinal game on Sunday either first or second.
- The Fantasy Draft will be eliminated due to the new makeup of the teams based on NHL divisions and the fan-selected captains.
- The new 3-on-3 tournament and altered Skills Competition are currently on a one-year deal and will be re-evaluated following the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend.