With few exceptions, All-Star Games in any pro sport play out as poorly as the Star Wars series did. Sure, both concepts sounded great on paper, but decades of evidence clearly demonstrate the reality lacks more than a little luster.
That said, there are varying degrees of All Star Game horrendousness. They range from barely tolerable (baseball, if only for its home run contests; and basketball, if only for its dunk and three-point shooting competitions) to patently offensive (the embarrassing patty-cake put-on that is the NFL's Pro Bowl).
The NHL's is closer to the NFL atrocity than the others, because, like the Pro Bowl, its athletes play the game minus its cornerstones of genuine passion and physicality. In fact, the 2001 NHL All-Star Game was so tedious, it caused now-retired star Pavel Bure to get up and leave. Which would've been fine, but for two important reasons:
1. The game was still being played; and
2. He was still playing in it.
When you can't convince your own players to stay for one of your biggest promotions of the season, a human resources problem isn't the only problem you've got to fix.
Luckily, there's an answer out there that will, at least in part, help bring more attention to the NHL's All-Star Game (which won't be held at all this year because of the players' participation in the Turin Olympics). It's a balm that, in less than a full season, already has soothed another of the league's sores. It is a commodity guaranteed to get fans on their feet.
Yup, it's the shootout. (At this point, we'd like to bid farewell to those readers who continue to despise the shootout and insist on hearing nothing of it. Enjoy your day.)
The shootout breaks ties, makes highlight reels - and yes, it can almost single-handedly revitalize Gary Bettman's mid-season corporate love-in. We're starting to think there's nothing the shootout can't do - reunite Jessica Simpson and The Guy Who Used To Be Married To Jessica Simpson; mass-produce an affordable automobile not reliant on fossil fuels; keep Tonya Harding out of the public eye once and for all. At this point, only the shootout can stop what the shootout is capable of.
The shootout is a starmaker. Think of the NHLers fans have come to know this season because of their shootout savvy. Jussi Jokinen. Marek Malik. Joe Corvo. They are players who might have otherwise drifted under the radar, forever foreign to the casual fan. Now their names are synonymous with the skill, and they are recognized as important contributors whose newly-valued talents will result in bigger paydays.
But the shootout doesn't just make stars from scratch(es). It also gives the league's most gifted players a bigger stage to show what they can do.
To wit: Thomas Vanek's goal Feb. 4 against Ottawa is a work of art in need of a museum. Some of the biggest individual highlights for two of the NHL's centerpiece rookie stars, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, have come during the shootout. Rick Nash scored a beauty and the first of his career to help his Blue Jackets top St. Louis Jan. 20.
Don't forget the other end of the equation, though. An NHL All-Star shootout competition can be a celebration of both the offense and defense of the drill. Just as the best shooters could qualify to play in the mini-tournament, so could the top goaltenders, although simple logistics suggests selecting only two of them.
(We know, we know, the NHL All-Star Game has had a breakaway relay in the past, but that's not fun. The only time people say things like Â“hey, that was a memorable relay race!Â” is if they were in one. Or when one of the runners somehow becomes involuntarily removed from their shorts.)
Some people at The Hockey News thought a shootout award could be determined like the NBA's slam dunk contest, wherein present-day and retired players sit on the bench and act as judges, holding up scores for creativity and degree of difficulty.
That's an option, but here's how Screen Shots sees it working best:
Each of the six shooters gets two shots against each of the two goaltenders (24 shots in total). The four shooters who have scored the most goals move on to the semi-final, where they get two more shots each against both goalies. Then, the two players who have scored the most - and the one goalie who's been beaten the least - move on to the final round, where both players get four chances to showcase their stuff.
And yes, if the two players were tied after four shots apiece, a sudden-death shootout would be used to decide the winner. Continuity is everything.
The drama of the shootout showdown would be immediate. As the shooters took their shots in the early rounds, you'd wind up with an interesting dynamic. That's because the more a goaltender makes saves, the better his chances to beat out the other goalie; but with every stopped shot, the offensive player's chances of moving on to the next round decrease. One man's feast is another man's famine, giving both shooter and goalie the inspiration to give their all.
And then, in the final, it's the top two shooters competing not only against each other, but also against the goaltender best prepared to stop them from scoring.
By the end of the exercise, you get an award-winning goalie, an award-winning shooter, and two more NHL markets and their fans get something to brag about. And if you sponsor the award and donate the winners' earnings to charity, you up the image of league and players exponentially.
So come on, NHL. You've got a year to get it planned and ready.
And really, what better place to have the league's first shootout than 2007, when the All-Star Game is in Texas?
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