The NHL learned something important this weekend at their annual All-Star Game: less is more.
The only problem with the NHL, or should that read the biggest problem with the NHL, is that even in realizing less is more, the league continued to give fans more. A little too much more.
The 3v3 All-Star format was a ton of fun and opened up the ice, while still managing to keep the scoring down from the traditional laugh-fests the NHL All-Star game had become with five-a-side contests in the past. It could have been the shorter clock or the tired legs, or the hot goalies in the final, or the collective hangover after the Saturday Night Skills Competition (more on that in a bit) but the game seemed to flow a lot better with 3v3 than it ever did 5v5.
And yet, when figuring out that less (players) meant more (quality) on the ice, the format pitting divisions against each other in 20-minute games was a logistical mistake.
— NHL (@NHL) February 1, 2016
The last thing anyone wants at an All-Star game is down time and the “hey we are in Nashville, let’s bombard fans with country music” seemed to not make a ton of sense given the NHL’s potential audience for the game.
Although, wait. What is the NHL’s potential audience for the All-Star Game? The contest has been relegated to NBCSN for some time, a clear indication by NBC that they know most casual fans won’t watch on their flagship channel, so why bother putting the game on network TV at all? Sunday’s slate on NBC consisted of the European Figure Skating Championship before local programming and the Nightly News. Come to think of it, that list might have been better than three hours of Pierre McGuire interviews.
The NHL has long struggled to find a balance with its All-Star Game. Unlike the NBA event or, to some extent, the same for MLB that can both be window-openers for casual sports fans who want to peek in and see the best players in the same game, the NHL All-Star Game has to juggle trying to gimmick up the event to get casual fans interested with not ostracizing die-hards who have already grown to hate the game and all its ridiculous rules, especially the one to include each team at the expense of more deserving players.
And also John Scott.
— NHL (@NHL) February 1, 2016
This year, though, the gimmicks worked. Less was more. Only there was still too much.
Here was the format for those who didn’t watch, via NHL.com:
The All-Star Game will be transformed into a 3-on-3 All-Star Tournament comprised of three 20-minute games played by divisional all-star teams competing for a winner-take-all $1 million prize.
That sounds like a lot of fun! And it was! Exclamation points! Only, the three 20-minute games—a regulation hockey game is three 20-minute periods, so the timing made sense in the NHL boardroom the idea came from—were actually two 10-minute halves, breaking the event up into six different 10-minute periods with what felt like at least as much time in between on-ice sessions. So while the action was awesome, and the game flowed a lot better, the constant stopping to give each team a breather after the taxing 10 minutes of 3v3 needs to be eliminated next year.
If the NHL wants to keep the format, which there is no reason to think they won’t after the on-ice play proved the concept can work, they should shorten up the games, eliminate any breaks between the Eastern and Western conference contests and stop putting elaborate sets on the ice for bands to play during intermissions when people who tune in to watch hockey have no interest in sitting through that. Seriously, no interest.
Each “semifinal” game should be three five-minute periods, with teams switching sides after each and no breaks other than a 60-second commercial timeout and opportunity for water between them.
After the first game is over, the other two teams immediately take the ice after one commercial break so there is no lull in the hockey action and then, fine, throw a Zamboni on the ice before the “final” and do the same thing there, with one 15-minute game, made up of three 5-minute periods.
That change would give fans a legitimate 45 minutes of hockey, which is more than enough for an All-Star game with such a gimmicky format. And it eliminates all the other unnecessary nonsense strung across the rest of the event. The NHL wants a concert? Stack it up before the game starts and be done with it. Who watching the All-Star Game on Sunday didn’t have their fill after the first two games? Was the “final” even necessary, outside of the $1 million prize? We got it, and we liked it. 3v3 is cool in an All-Star format. Less is more, so next year, consider less.
— NHL (@NHL) February 1, 2016
And with that, it’s worth considering less on Saturday night as well.
At times, the Saturday Night Skills show had atrocious pacing, some terribly-conceived events—whoever constructed the idea for the skills relay should have been fired before one team even finished passing the pucks into those hilariously tiny nets—and a seemingly flat arena, thanks in part to the on-ice interviews NBCSN did their best to make interesting, the event was probably 30 to 45 minutes too long, with too much down time between events.
— NHL (@NHL) January 31, 2016
Unless PK Subban was doing something great or Shea Weber was shooting a puck more than 108 mph, the skills competition showed that the NHL has great talent, and very little personality. NBCSN struggled so much to find anyone to interview with a shred of personality over the second half of that event they went back to the Patrick Kane well multiple times, a tone deaf move by the league and the network.
Kane was roundly booed, and played up to the crowd on Saturday—and again on Sunday with his mock fight against brawler-turned-fan-favorite John Scott during the All-Star Game—but the league and its broadcast partner neglected to acknowledge why the fans were booing Kane.
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) February 1, 2016
This wasn’t a wrestling match where the heel gets cheap heat from the crowd because they know they’re supposed to root against him. That was the Nashville crowd booing a guy who is immensely talented, but a public relations nightmare for the league right now with all the off-ice issues he’s seen over the last year. Kane is someone the NHL should have had nowhere near a microphone, but there he was, because any reaction from the crowd was better than none.
Kane absolutely deserved to be on the ice on Saturday and certainly on Sunday. The season he is having is out of this world, but the effort to get him on the mic in front of the crowd just so they’d give some reaction smacked of desperation, further illustrating how hackneyed the event was run.
Less is always more, especially less of that.