2016 NHL All-Star Game Notebook: Pros and Cons of the 3-on-3 Format

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistFebruary 1, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the most part, it all worked. 

Sunday's NHL All-Star Game, the one originally besieged by negative, melodramatic headlines essentially ranging from the "Outrage of John Scott" to "3-on-3 Just Ain't Hockey," turned into a good time for all. The No. 1 rule in entertainment is: Don't be boring. And despite the boring final score, 1-0 in favor of the Pacific Division in a four-division format, it was anything but. That score only made the day more unique than anyone could have envisioned.

No matter that the league tried to make it a more lively, competitive product; All-Star Games of yesteryear too often lapsed into drama-free snooze-fests. But this one wasn't.

OK, not to make what happened at Bridgestone Arena out to be the entertainment equivalent of the Beatles at Shea Stadium. This was still a hockey game with no hitting and no nastiness, which for us Cro-Magnon types will always be a big part of the sport's appeal. 

But all the radical changes gave this event something other modern All-Star Games have lacked: originality. Criticize the NHL all you want for being stuck in the past in some other ways, but what other sport would take a such a gamble with its product like this?

Would the NFL ever go to a two-on-two Pro Bowl? (But, hey, why not? I'd probably watch a two-on-two game with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski on one side against Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas a lot quicker than their annual snoozer in Honolulu.) Would the NBA go to a round-robin, one-on-one tournament for its ASG? (Sounds interesting to me.)

The NHL heard the criticism of the past and tried to do something about it. It gets credit for trying something new in a world in which traditionalists too often drown out fresh ideas.

"I think this is going to get bigger and better," Metropolitan coach Barry Trotz said. "Players really enjoyed this, and I think the fans did, too."

Here's a list of what worked well for this year's contest and one or two things that didn't (and yes, it's nitpicking on those couple of things, but hey).


What Worked 

Better goaltending

Everybody thought the scores would be stratospheric in a three-on-three format, but more open ice seemed to have the opposite effect. It forced the goaltenders to be sharper and gave them more opportunities to flash the pads. 

Goalies in the old five-on-five format seemed to get bored and were hung out to dry too easily, whereas they were the key to winning their respective games in a three-on-three. That kept them much more involved, and for a change the NHL All-Star Game actually showed off goaltender skill.

The first half of the championship game between the Pacific and Atlantic had no goals. Even NBC announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick was energized by the goaltending quality, saying, "I don't think I've ever said that in an All-Star Game."

The only goal of the final game came with six minutes, 22 seconds left in the second of two 10-minute periods from Corey Perry. Did anyone predict a 1-0 final for an NHL All-Star Game?

Ben Bishop made some beautiful saves in the Atlantic Division's 4-3 win over the Metropolitan. Hey, 4-3 scores after a one-period game of hockey are still high, but the optics are much better than the old 17-12 final scores.

John Gibson's skate-save on Tyler Seguin in the Pacific-Central game was the best of the day. Gibson did the splits to preserve a two-goal lead for the Pacific.


Money on the line

Look, these aren't the days when part of Bobby Orr's signing bonus was a free stucco job on his parents' house. All the guys on the ice Sunday are doing real well financially, all safely in the 1-percenter class (even Scott). 

But hey, don't think for a second the players didn't want that winner's cut of $1 million. Split up 11 ways, that equals $90,909.09 per player. That's pretty good money for a day's pay, even for rich modern athletes. And it made the game more competitive; no doubt about it.

"Guys were engaged. Guys really wanted to win," Predators defender Shea Weber said.


John Scott

Not only did Scott score two legitimate, quality goals in the Pacific-Central game, but the guy who was supposed to be an embarrassment to hockey got off a zinger against NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick.

Roenick admitted to Scott that he was "wrong" about his earlier criticism of Scott's inclusion in the game. "Yeah, it's not the first time you've been wrong, I'll just say that," Scott said in a bench interview. 


Scott legitimately played well. He never looked out of place, as unthinkable as that might have been to say even just a day before. The ovation Scott received from the crowd after the game, the MVP trophy (and the car that came with it), the photo with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman holding a cardboard $1 million check and his being lifted on the shoulders of former teammates Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski will forever be indelible memories of ASG Nashville.

"Never in a million years did I think I'd be in an All-Star Game with the crowd getting behind me like that," Scott said when asked his thoughts when the crowd chanted, "MVP, MVP!"


Exertion required

Too often in games past, the five-on-five format allowed players to sort of coast around and wait for the puck to come to them. In the three-on-three, they had to really expend some energy out there. That made for a more entertaining product. 

Sure, players got dog tired at times, but at least that came from real effort. 


What Didn't Work 

Defensive players remain in shadows

It would be nice if somehow we could figure out a way to let defensemen show their skill at their own end in these things. 

Yeah, it's a show, and offense sells better than defense. But playing good defense is a skill, too. It would be nice just to see a little of that in one of these things.


A little long

The exhibition might have gone on just a bit too long. The championship game took place close to two-and-a-half hours after the first puck was dropped. It's a nitpick complaint, for sure, but you could sense things dragging a little in the intermission between the second and third games.


Scott doubters

The league will get a lot of praise for having a guy like Scott in the All-Star Game, but Bettman's non-denial that the league initially tried to discourage him from accepting the fans' vote-in, then the events of Sunday, definitely leaves some egg on the league's face. The same goes for the Arizona Coyotes in trading away a player who had contributed to a winning record and who has a wife pregnant with twins.


Other Things That Worked

The Pickin' and Singin'

The NHL will always have an ace card to play if it wants to top any other sport in terms of between-periods musical talent, having Nashville among its cities. 

Vince Gill and his daughter singing the national anthem. Lee Brice and Jennifer Nettles performing during other stops. Plus, the Johnny Cash Museum right down the street. Tough to top that.


Larkin's wheels

Dylan Larkin made history Saturday night, setting the quickest time ever in the fastest-skater competition. He broke Mike Gartner's 20-year-old record by skating a lap around obstacles in 13.172 seconds, besting Gartner's 13.386.


On Broadway

It'll be tough to top the location of just about everything All-Star-related this year. The main hotels were right across the street from the arena. The main drag downtown, Broadway St., is mere steps away from the arena, too. 

Everybody could just walk everywhere for all their entertainment needs, and there certainly is no shortage of those in Nashville.


Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.


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