Shea Weber (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
The MLB Home Run Derby took place Monday night with a new, tournament format that intrigued baseball fans. The NHL’s Skills Competition could become as interesting to fans with a few tweaks. Here are five ways to improve the Skills Competition next season.
The MLB’s Home Run Derby took place Monday night, showcasing some of baseball’s biggest hitters in a brand new format that rejuvenated the event and made it fun to watch even for non-baseball fans.
Much like how the MLB changed up the format for the season’s Derby, the NHL’s Skills Competition is more than due for a change. Over the past few seasons the events have become stale and the fanfare, for the most part, seems to have faded to the point where the Skills Competition seems more tedious than enjoyable. Suffice to say that in a weekend that brings together the NHL’s brightest stars, the fantasy draft shouldn’t be the highlight of the three-day event.
So how, exactly, should the NHL change up the Skills Competition to make it a bit more interesting? We have a few ideas.
5. Get goaltenders involved in the Skills Challenge relay
Does anyone else remember the Goalie Goals event, wherein goaltenders had to fire the puck full ice, over a barricade, and into an empty net at the other end? While it wasn’t exactly the most exciting event, it at least got the goaltenders involved in the Skills Competition beyond being pelted with shootout attempts.
Why not, then, have the goaltenders stop breakaway attempts during the relay? After all, goaltenders got here for stopping pucks, so why not have them rack up some points instead of simply stopping other players from earning any?
4. Scrap Breakaway Challenge, add style points to Shootout
The first few Breakaway Challenges, which brought us lasting images such as Alex Ovechkin in a Tilley hat and sunglasses, were fun, but the novelty of it all wore off quickly. Like the NBA’s slam dunk competition, repeated attempts at a failed move take away from the excitement and, more often than not, leave everyone waiting for someone, anyone, to finally make good on whatever it was they had planned.
By adding the style points system to the shootout event in which all players come steaming in on goal could give way to a few Marek Malik moments. Who wouldn’t want to see Zdeno Chara attempt to go between-the-legs or have Patrick Kane attempt to pull his Superman slide move when the opposition goaltender is actually giving it their all? All of the best shootout goals usually come during this competition, so let’s reward the creativity.
3. Pit up-and-comers against veterans
Keep the fantasy draft for the game itself, but why not have the skills competition pit the youngest players against the oldest in a battle of youthful exuberance versus veteran knowledge? At the very least, you’re sure to get some of the veterans heckling the youngsters to try to throw them off, which is about all you can really ask for.
The best moments at the all-star weekend come when players are mic’d up and you can be sure there would be more than a few Hall of Fame worthy verbal jabs thrown back and forth were you to pit a team of players in their early 20s against a group of elder statesmen.
2. Hardest Shot Bracket
The closest thing to the Home Run Derby that the NHL can offer is the Hardest Shot competition. The MLB’s new format, a bracketed tournament, is a great one, and the NHL could easily follow suit.
There were eight shooters in this past season’s Hardest Shot competition. Take that same number next season, seed them one through eight and make it a mini tournament. Set up both nets to be able to measure shots and go at it, shot for shot, until there’s one Hardest Shot king left standing.
Already the Hardest Shot brings oohs and ahs from the crowd. If the players with the most booming shots are given more opportunities to unload big blast after big blast, there’s a better chance we see a record-breaking shot. That’s good for everyone.
1. Bring back the 3-on-3 scrimmage
Why the Home Run Derby works is because, unlike the Skills Competition, the Derby does a decent job of representing what exactly an in-game scenario can look like. Sure, the pitches are lobbed in and batters aren’t facing any breaking balls, but at least it resembles an actual home run. As such, let’s get back to the 3-on-3 Youngstars game, or, otherwise, make a 3-on-3 game part of the Skills Competition.
Players don’t have to skate at full tilt – nor would they, if the All-Star Game is any evidence – and it would still offer up a number of head-shaking goals. There are so many fantasy scenarios for line combinations in a 3-on-3 competition that it could make your mouth water. Imagine a team of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares against Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Vladimir Tarasenko? Take my money.