The NHL Isn’t Too Stuffy To Try Cool Ideas

This was just posted on ESPN.  The NHL is apparently abandoning the conference-vs-conference All-Star game in favor of an all-star pickup game.  Here is the link, but below is the pertinent info:

Fans will vote for a starting team of three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie, regardless of conference. Voting begins Nov. 15 and runs through Jan. 3.

The league’s Hockey Operations Department in Toronto will name the remaining 36 All-Stars to form a player pool, along with 12 rookies, for a total of 54 players. The 12 rookies will participate in the skills event, but the rookie game will not be played.

The players will then elect two captains, who will choose sides in a fantasy draft on Jan. 28. Each team must pick three goalies, six defensemen and 23 forwards, but they can pick in any order they choose.

I recall a columnist, perhaps Bill Simmons, arguing a few years back that the NBA should do this with its All-Star game.  How great, said Bill Simmons (or somebody), would it be for Kobe and LeBron to stand mid-court and take turns picking their squad?  I’m not a big NBA guy, but that idea sounded great then, and it’s great now.  In the era of free agency, the tribes of players that are each conference are no longer consistent enough to make East/West or America/National resonate.

I admire the NHL for having the guts to change its game to make it more interesting.  What’s more, these changes aren’t poorly thought out, pointless, or knee-jerk.  Most sports fans can identify with the playground-pick-squads mechanic.  Until the era of Helicopter Parents and Little-League-As-College-Resume-Filler, this is how most of us played sports.  So kudos to the NHL for taking a cosmetic part of the game and making it more exciting by aligning its wavelength with the frequencies reverberating in the hearts of its fans.

Baseball and football seem to be faced with similar questions about the structure and format of their games, but both sports are less proactive about it.  Baseball is dithering about instant replay and the Wild Card, while the Marlins and Pirates fleece their home cities and the World Series yet again finished in November.  The NFL has suddenly realized that every player has a concussion, and is talking about extending the season to 18 games.

Keep the game sacrosanct, or adjust with the times.  Those are two approaches to overseeing a major professional sport.  Like bull castration,* these approaches have to be done completely and with energy and purpose, or you risk a mess and people get hurt.  The NHL seems to be setting a good example of how to pursue the latter path.

*Why this analogy, you ask?  Well, why not.  First thing that came to mind.

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