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The Transformation of the All-Star Game's Format

by Pete Weber / Nashville Predators

The NHL All-Star Game has undergone tremendous change over the years. From its informal beginnings as a benefit for an injured player (covered in a previous post) to what is about to be unveiled at Bridgestone Arena at the end of this month, there has been a great variety of “Best vs. Best” in the hockey realm.

The All-Star Game officially became a regular part of the League’s calendar in 1947. At the outset, it was a preseason game, in which the previous Stanley Cup Champions would play the All-Stars from the other five NHL teams. That was essentially the form the game took through the start of the 1966-67 season.

There were some adjustments during that period as well, however. In both 1951 and 1952, the League had its previous season’s first All-Star team play the second, which produced two tied games.

In 1966, things began to dramatically change. They didn’t start the 1966-67 season with the All-Stars; instead, the NHL moved the game to midseason, where it has remained ever since. After the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1967, the NHL doubled in size, from six to 12 teams, adding Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis (each at previous points NHL cities), Minnesota, Oakland and Los Angeles (the 50th anniversary of this important NHL expansion will come next year in 2017).

Thus, the 1968 game was the last of the “Cup Champion against the remaining All-Stars” matchups. In 1969, the League pitted the Eastern Conference (established teams) versus the Western Conference (expansion teams).

At this point in time, hockey truly began expanding. The rival World Hockey Association appeared on the scene in 1972, so the NHL, not wanting to leave potential markets to that circuit, accelerated the expansion pace.

Buffalo and Vancouver began play in 1970, and those teams were both placed in the “established” Eastern Conference, with Chicago joining the 1967 expansion teams.

When the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames joined in 1972, followed by the Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals in 1974, the league created the Clarence Campbell Conference with the Patrick and Smythe Divisions, and the Prince of Wales Conference with the Adams and Norris Divisions. If you want to check the records from that period, you will observe that most of them were geographically challenged. (Boston, Buffalo, and Toronto with California/Oakland?)

So in 1975, the NHL began staging the game with the Wales playing the Campbell Conference. There was a one-season departure in 1979. The Challenge Cup was staged at Madison Square Garden: a three-game series of NHL All-Stars against the Soviet Union, and the Soviets took it, two games to one.

In 1980, it was back to the Wales vs. Campbell format in Detroit, where 51-year-old, Red Wing-favorite Gordie Howe, representing the Hartford Whalers, drew an incredible reception at Joe Louis Arena:

From 1994 through 1997, the All-Star Game returned to the East vs. West format as the NHL renamed its conferences and divisions. For the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, NHL professionals were allowed to compete. From that sprang five consecutive games pitting the North America All-Stars vs. the World All-Stars. This featured some interesting matchups of NHL teammates competing against each other.

When the game moved away from that, back to East vs. West in Sunrise, Florida, in 2003, the NHL added the shootout, as the West beat the East, 6-5, in the breakaway competition. The West’s Markus Naslund (Vancouver), Bill Guerin (Dallas) and Paul Kariya (Anaheim) all tallied in the shootout, with the East’s Dany Heatley (Atlanta) scoring the only successful try for the East. Heatley, with four goals in regulation was the MVP, and the shootout would come to the NHL regular season after the lockout of 2004-05.

Labor unrest (1995, 2005 and 2013) and Olympic (2006, 2010 and 2014) participation resulted in the loss of six All-Star games. In 2011, the NHL created the Fantasy Draft of players who had been selected for the game. That was abolished after last season’s game in Columbus.

Now we have the 3-on-3 tournament this month, and I am looking forward to this as Nashville welcomes the hockey world!

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