Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. (Unfortunately, Wayne Gretzky won't be hitting the ice for the All-Star Game.)
The All-Star Game's star-studded cast will make the three-on-three tournament a joy to watch, especially if the divisional coaches decide to go all-in with their line combinations.
As we’ve come to learn across the past few seasons, there are few things in the game as exciting as a great three-on-three overtime. Thanks to the end-to-end action, odd-man rushes turned into breakaways the opposite way and the nonstop pace of play, it’s one of the NHL’s great additions in the post-lockout era.
That’s what has made the format such a hit at the All-Star Game over the past several seasons. While the game itself had grown stale in past years, the threes tournament, with its West-versus-West and East-versus-East semifinal leading to a cross-conference showdown, has breathed some new life into the event. And though players still play the All-Star Game at half-speed and eschew defense for fancy offensive plays, it can still be a thrill to watch. One prime reason why is that, if nothing else, all-star weekend has always been able to deliver the combinations fans never thought possible, the lines only previously made possible by way of the force-trade option in the EA Sports NHL game of your choice.
So, in the spirit of some of these dream trios, here are the best units each division could put together in an effort to win the three-on-three competition:
Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Erik Karlsson — Atlantic Division
Generally speaking, the most exciting thing about the All-Star Game is mixing and matching top talents from opposing teams. And what makes the divisional format a blast is that you can have genuine rivals play alongside one another. When it comes to the Atlantic, though, why not throw together an absolute powerhouse of a threesome that brings together two of the hometown team’s stars with arguably the best offensive defenseman in the game?
There’s no two players who have been as dominant playing alongside each other as Kucherov and Stamkos, and the fact that both have equal ability to set the other up or act as the triggerman makes for a ridiculously difficult duo to stop. But add Karlsson to the mix, who can probably set up either while blindfolded, and you have two snipers who will have perfect one-time passes to tee off on.
Honestly, dreaming up a trio of Kucherov, Stamkos and Karlsson makes one wish the All-Star Game would go one step further and scrap the divisional tournament in favor of a straight-up tournament with three skaters per team with the last team standing getting the win. If these three ended up together, though, the tournament might be won before it started.
Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane and P.K. Subban — Central Division
For pure offense, the Central would be able to rely on Kane. Only one player since the lockout-shortened 2013-13 season has scored more than the Blackhawks superstar, and that’s Sidney Crosby. Kane, though, is arguably one of the two or three most creative players with the puck on his stick. He’s a stick-handling marvel able to throw defenders and juke goaltenders seemingly with ease.
As a two-way force, there’s MacKinnon. His offensive ability has become increasingly evident as he battles for the league scoring lead this season, but he’s no slouch on the other side of the puck, either. He’s consistently facing the toughest competition among Avalanche forwards and making those who try to defend him look foolish. He can compete against anyone, and he’s as true a Hart Trophy candidate as anyone in the league this season.
Defensively, it doesn’t get much better than Subban. He’s been a monster for the Predators and a worthy contender for the Norris Trophy this season, basically thrown over the boards for every defensive zone faceoff yet moving the puck to safety shift-in and shift-out. None of this is to mention that he, like Kane and MacKinnon, has a bundle of moves at his disposal. Give him the puck, let him fly and watch him make magic of his own. Subban inclusion makes for a complete trio, one that’s solid in every aspect.
Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau and Brent Burns — Pacific Division
Now here’s some divisional hatred-turned-all-star success that we could get behind. The Flames and Oilers historically don’t get along, but the near-annual showcase game is always a great time for rivalries to be put aside for some good ol’ fashioned entertainment. And we can’t think of a duo that would be much more entertaining than McDavid and Gaudreau. Both are speedsters, both can make defenders look like pylons and both are incredibly gifted playmakers. The only issue with a McDavid-Gaudreau combination might be that neither wants to finish off the pretty passing plays.
That’s where Burns comes in. A throwback to the old-fashioned rover, Burns consistently contributes as an offensive defenseman and a skilled defender, but his 29-goal campaign last season — as well as his seven goals in his past 28 contests — are all the proof one needs that he can light the lamp. If he had McDavid and Gaudreau putting pucks on his tape, it wouldn’t be all too surprising to see Burns fire home four or five goals in a single three-on-three contest. As an added bonus, Burns would bring some serious personality to the trio. Fear the beard.
Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares — Metropolitan Division
Go all in, we say. It’s an All-Star Game, after all, and this is the equivalent of the Dream Team. There’s no trio that could bring as much offensive firepower to the table as Crosby, Ovechkin and Tavares, and Metropolitan coach Barry Trotz should give the fans the show they came to see by putting the first-overall selections from the 2004, 2005 and 2009 draft together. Just consider the offensive history the three superstar forwards have. Since the lockout-shortened campaign, Crosby (473), Ovechkin (409) and Tavares (392) rank first, third and sixth in scoring and have combined for 1,274 points. So, how would they fare together in a half-speed three-on-three tournament where defense doesn’t really matter? They’d probably stop scoring when they got bored of it.
The magic of putting the trio together goes beyond their histories, though, because there’s no single three-man unit that would have as much pure star power as Crosby, Ovechkin and Tavares. The Penguins and Capitals captains are two of the faces of the sport and have been since they entered the league post-lockout, while Tavares, the Islanders captain, is a two-time Hart Trophy finalist who is on his way to becoming one of the highest-paid players in the game.
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