The NHL is bringing 3-on-3 hockey to its annual All-Star Game, and that should be celebrated. While the skills competitions still offer some entertainment, the actual game itself has grown stale. The players don't play hard. It's not fun. It's like watching the league's best players play a scrimmage at 4 in the morning on New Years Day.
Implementing 3-on-3 hockey and splitting the players into divisional teams should spice up the game. But it comes at a cost.
The All-Star Game Fantasy Draft is dead. And that's a shame.
The NFL may have since implemented that wrinkle in its own All-Star event, but the NHL was the first of the Big Four leagues to use it in 2011. The concept was simple. The top six players voted for by the fans would split up and name two captains for each squad. The four players on each side would then select the rest of their teammates in a draft televised live.
It was the answer to the question of what fantasy sports would be like if they happened in real life. And it worked on so many levels.
The draft broke up the monotony of the tired "conference versus conference" aspect that was an all-star game staple for decades across the sports landscape. For the first time, fans didn't know what to expect on All-Star Weekend. That player you hate? He could be playing alongside your favorite player and you'd have to put up with it. The 2011 All-Star draft broke up the Sedin twins for the first time ever.
It was unique, and it set the NHL apart from other sports for a few years in the best way.
But most of all, it put the best qualities of the league on display: the players' personalities. For whatever reason, hockey players come equipped with wry senses of humor. The All-Star Draft finally let the stars show it off.
Ever wondered what it would be like if you got the NHL's stars in the same room with a few drinks in them? You didn't have to anymore. It happened every All-Star Weekend. And it was often hilarious.
Picking on Phil Kessel became a recurring bit. In 2011 every player reveled in leaving Kessel sitting all alone as the final pick.
A fun revelation was just how in tune the All-Stars were with narratives and drama swirling around the fans and media. They didn't just use the draft to reference storylines. They made jokes out of it. While Kessel was facing criticism for his coachability in Toronto, Jonathan Toews drafted him first overall in the 2015 All-Star Draft because "he's one of the most coachable players out there."
The creativity on display by the players was wonderful to watch. That same year, the players trolled Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins fans by recreating a legendary trade.
Perhaps its fitting that the final All-Star draft ended in 2015, because it means it exits on a high. That was the year Alex Ovechkin revealed his comedic genius. Every other player took a backseat to Ovechkin's amazing, inebriated and ultimately failed quest to win a new car by being picked last.
Rarely do you see pro athletes let loose like that. The All-Star Fantasy Draft offered fans a glimpse into the camaraderie and good-natured spirit of the NHL fraternity. For one night a year, fans and players alike could simply enjoy the players for who they were and not what they brought to the ice.
And now the draft is gone. It leaves a huge hole I'm not sure the new All-Star Game format can fill. It might be a positive change for the game itself, but it's hard not to feel sad about the spirit the NHL sacrificed to make it happen.