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History of the NHL all-star game: Pizzo


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Every year, when all-star Weekend is upon on us, I find hockey fans fall into three distinct categories.

The first group absolutely hates it. They think the all-star game is not entertaining, the intensity is non-existent, and would gladly give up their first-born child to blow the whole thing up.

The second group tolerates it. They’ll have the game on every year, but put about as much effort into watching it as the players do into winning it.

The third group: are children.

But one thing they all have in common is that they have an opinion on the ever-changing format. The first official all-star game happened in 1947 (games before that were benefit games), and since then we have seen 6 formats. Let’s take a look at how the All-Star weekend has evolved over the years.

Stanley Cup Champions vs. NHL All-Stars

Total times used: 19

When the all-star game first became a yearly event, this was the first format they used. 

It ran from 1947-1968 (with the exception of the 1951 and 1952 all-star games. More on that in a bit). 

The main reason it worked at the time was because the defending champs remained pretty much intact. There was no such thing as free agency, or the salary cap, and trading star players was not a regular occurrence. 

With only six teams in the league, the hatred between players was never a secret. They loved getting a shot to dethrone the champs.

I love this format, but it just wouldn’t work today, players change teams too often.

First Team All-Stars vs. Second Team All-Stars

Total times used: 2

This was only used for 2 years (1951 and 1952) as a knee-jerk reaction to even up the playing field.

In 1950, the defending champions, the Detroit Red Wings (a team full of superstars), laid a beating on the All-Stars 7-1.

So the league thought; if you can’t beat’em, split’em up!

The remaining roster spots for the first team were filled by players on American based franchises, and the second team got players from Canadian teams.

Both games ended in ties and the league went back to its Cup Champs vs. All-Stars format the next year. 

Let’s face it, this is just plain stupid and I’m glad it happened long before I was born. 

Wales/East vs. Campbell/West

Total times used: 26

The league started using this format in 1969 when it doubled in size the season before and it just made sense.

The allure of the All-Star game isn’t seeing which players will go head-to-head against each other, it’s seeing players play with each other.

All you have to do is look at a few score-sheets to see dream scenarios that came to fruition. Phil Esposito scoring from Guy Lafluer in 1975, Mike Bossy from Larry Robinson in 1982, and my favourite — Mario Lemieux from Wayne Gretzky in 1997.

North America vs. World All-Stars

Total times used: 5

With NHL players gearing up for the 1998 Winter Olympics, the NHL thought they would add an international flavour to the game by pitting North Americans against the rest of the world’s players. I never really got onboard with this one, because it wasn’t really international. For example, Canada and USA are rivals, so sticking them on the same team takes all the fun out of it. International hockey is about cheering for your home country; when was the last time you actually felt pride because of the result of an all-star game?

The Draft

Total times used: 3

The league finally showed some creativity and decided to hold a fantasy draft.

Two captains (Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal), one-by-one, selected their team from the players who had earned an all-star spot. 

Sounds familiar right? 

Anyone who played on an outdoor rink at some point in their lives has taken part in this exact situation. It was great!

But then people got their hockey socks in a knot because players like Phil Kessel were left sitting to be picked last (and got a car for it!). Unfortunately, this only lasted three years. I blame millennials!

3-on-3 tournament

Total times used: 4 (and counting)

This is the current format and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. 

A four team, 3-on-3 tournament, where the four teams each represent one of the league’s four divisions. This move made sense. The league had just gone to a 3-on-3 format for overtime in regular season games, why not try it for the all-star game?

Here’s the thing, 3-on-3 in the regular season is amazing to watch for one very simple reason: the games MEAN something! 

When the players don’t really care (even though with a first prize of $1 million US, their bar tab will be paid for), the excitement level slows to a crawl by the last game.

That being said, I’m ok with this one for a while.

What’s your favourite format?

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