ALL-STAR ABERRATION

Drai­saitl sit­u­a­tion shows the sys­tem needs a fix: Jones

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - TERRY JONES [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter: @ByTer­ryJones

In two or three years, when the ice dis­trict is up and run­ning, Ed­mon­ton will play host to the NHL All- Star Game.

Hope­fully, they get it fixed by then.

The league lucked out Fri­day when the fans got it right in the Last Man In vot­ing, choos­ing Oil­ers for­ward Leon Drai­saitl to join Con­nor McDavid on the Pa­cific team for the three-on-three for­mat mini-tour­na­ment.

Drai­saitl, with the ca­reer year he’s hav­ing, should never have had to go through the in­dig­nity of this dog-and-pony show in the first place.

It would have been al­most crim­i­nal if a fan base stuffed the bal­lot box to get their guy in the game ahead of more qual­i­fied can­di­dates.

Drai­saitl sits tied for 10th in league scor­ing with 54 points, on pace for a 100-point sea­son.

He’s tied for third with the Cal­gary Flames’ Sean Mon­a­han in Pa­cific Divi­sion point pro­duc­tion be­hind only McDavid and Cal­gary’s Johnny Gau­dreau.

But Drai­saitl get­ting into the all-star game doesn’t take away from the fact that Mon­a­han, who might be hav­ing the best sea­son of them all, didn’t get picked to be in the game. Morgan Rielly in Toronto might be at the top of the list of de­fence­men with the year he’s hav­ing, and he isn’t go­ing, ei­ther. Mitch Marner is the top scorer for the Leafs and he’s not an all-star ei­ther.

But Mon­a­han to­tally, 100 per cent, de­serves to be there. He now be­comes one of the poster boys for what’s wrong with the game.

Be­fore we go there, let’s deal with Drai­saitl, who has 23 goals and a se­ri­ous shot at 40 and maybe even 50.

If you’re go­ing to fea­ture threeon-three hockey, you shouldn’t have to go to a fan bal­lot to com­plete the most spec­tac­u­lar three-on-three over­time pair­ing in the league.

In this for­mat, McDavid and Drai­saitl should be an en­try and, ar­guably, the first two play­ers se­lected.

Since the start of the 2016-17 sea­son, the dy­namic duo is tied for first in NHL over­time points with 13 apiece.

They’re com­bin­ing, along with team­mate Ryan Nu­gen­tHop­kins, to carry the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers on their backs, stay­ing in play­off con­tention on a team with half a ros­ter of ex­pend­able play­ers.

Be­cause three on three is the for­mat they’ve cho­sen, the league’s top three-on-three com­bi­na­tions have to be part of it. Putting Bud­weiser Cly­des­dales out there with the thor­ough­breds be­cause all 31 teams have to have a rep­re­sen­ta­tive doesn’t work.

The NHL fi­nally dis­cov­ered a play­off for­mat worth watch­ing with three-on-three hockey. But you can’t have it both ways.

The NHL has changed all-star game for­mats so many times it has be­come laugh­able.

In the be­gin­ning, the first of­fi­cial all-star game in 1947 fea­tured the Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons ver­sus the stars of the other five teams. Other for­mats to fol­low in­cluded first-team all-stars ver­sus second-team all-stars, East­ern Con­fer­ence ver­sus West­ern Con­fer­ence, North Amer­ica ver­sus The World and, most re­cently, the Fan­tasy Draft farce where all-star cap­tains picked the play­ers for each team like in a pickup game.

The 2016 all-star game brought in the cur­rent for­mat, where an 11-man team from each of the four di­vi­sions com­peted in 20-minute, three-on-three games.

The win­ners of the first two games re­turned to play for a $1-mil­lion take-all in a 20-minute fi­nal. It works.

The big­gest prob­lem with pre­vi­ous all-star for­mats was that play­ers re­fused to check, hit or com­pete.

What you got were mostly line rushes go­ing one way and then the other. As a re­sult, there were dou­ble-digit scores for both teams. Three-on-three is mostly wide-open, too, with teams trad­ing turns any­way. Ex­cept, it’s fun.

What the NHL has failed to do since com­ing up with this for­mat has been to per­fect it. They’ve also failed to fix other things about the all-star game that are bro­ken.

In Ed­mon­ton, fans were polled about which NHL event they’d rather see at Rogers Place when the Ice Dis­trict is com­plete.

A large ma­jor­ity chose the en­try draft.

One poll even asked the ques­tion: Do we even want the NHL All- Star Game?

Along the way, the NHL made the game pri­mar­ily a schmoosea-thon for spon­sors. It also be­came a money grab with tick­ets to two events: the skills com­pe­ti­tion and the game.

It lost, un­der what­ever for­mat, the ap­peal to the av­er­age fan and any sense of be­lief that it be­longed to them.

The fans them­selves, by vot­ing Drai­saitl in, have made it less of a farce than it would have been this sea­son. But it didn’t fix any­thing. In leav­ing play­ers like Mon­a­han out, the all-star game is still bro­ken.

As long as all 31 teams have to have a player in the game, you’re go­ing to have far too many play­ers who de­serve to be in the all­star game not in at­ten­dance.

When the event hits Ed­mon­ton, it’ll be 32 teams.

The solution, to me, is to make the skills event the one where all 32 teams are rep­re­sented wear­ing their own team uni­forms.

The ac­tual all-star game should be re­served for ac­tual all-stars, es­pe­cially the ones who lift you out of your seats in reg­u­lar-sea­son, three-on-three over­time.

Guys like Leon Drai­saitl. And you could add a cou­ple more of those to each of the four teams.

CLAUS AN­DER­SEN/GETTY IMAGES

Even though he is second over­all in scor­ing among de­fence­men, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly will not be among play­ers at the all-star event in San Jose Jan. 24-27. The flaw with hav­ing all teams rep­re­sented is that some de­serv­ing play­ers aren’t be­ing in­cluded.

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