Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

On the NHL | SuperSkills or StuporSkills? NHL needs All-Star interest

DALLAS - The NHL skills competition at the All-Star Game has it roots in 1990. The league has tweaked it over the years to make it more interesting, but portions of this year's SuperSkills were deadly dull.

The NHL needs to make some changes in its festivities during the first night of competition if only to draw people into the arena and keep them there.

And the first thing that commissioner Gary Bettman needs to do is kill the YoungStars Game in its present form.

It was hideous. Some of the players walked through it as if they were comatose, especially Colorado goalie Peter Budaj. He was motionless in net for large portions of the game, giving the impression he was more dead than alive.

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A suggestion is to replace the YoungStars setup with a game featuring YoungStars vs. Top Prospects.

We wouldn't necessarily change the kind of NHL players we use, but we would incorporate either the top 20 junior prospects from Canada and the United States or the top 20 overall prospects for the upcoming draft that is held in June.

Keep the running clock but forget four-on-four and make it five-on-five. Had we done this on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, we could have something along the lines of draft prospects Patrick Kane, James Van Riemsdyk, Sam Gagner, Angelo Esposito, Alexei Cherepanov against NHLers Anzie Kopitar, Alexander Radulov, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and Andrei Meszaros.

That would have been more than just novelty. It would have been genuinely interesting to see whether the draft kids could upstage their slightly older NHL brethren. This scenario gives the draft prospects added incentive to display their talents in a way to enhance their position.

Here are some other changes we'd like to see as it pertains to the SuperSkills competition:

Dump "In the Zone," in which three shooters fire on the goalie. This is like dropping Bambi into an open field with three hunters firing from behind three trees. This is sport?

Replace "In the Zone" with some actual hockey drills that incorporate breakaways and defense. Go to a two-on-one or three-on-two breakaway drill, which is far more intriguing than just the current three-stage shoot-out. At next season's All-Star Game, you could have Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin going up against Chris Pronger. Or Crosby, Ovechkin and Danny Briere against Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. With Roberto Luongo in goal.

Finally, as much as Crosby gave us something to remember in the "One-on-One" shoot-out, we like to ratchet things up a bit. Let every player from both teams compete in a round-robin shoot-out, East vs. West, until there is one player left. Wouldn't that be more interesting to watch on Versus than three rounds of shoot-outs broken up?

This isn't the NHL Board of Governors being asked to vote on a schedule change. It's the All-Star Game, and it needs to be more appealing to the fans and TV viewers.

The schedule

Once upon an Edmonton Oiler, a kid named Gretzky skated in every city in North America.

You didn't want to wait every other year or even every three years to see him at the Spectrum.

The face of the NHL has changed. It's the face of Sidney Crosby. And Alex Ovechkin. That two of the biggest stars in hockey are both in the Eastern Conference is reason for Western Conference teams to feel slighted.

Last week, the NHL Board of Governors met in Dallas and agreed they wanted to change the schedule format but once again couldn't agree on how.

So the question becomes: Why was it essential for Gretzky to play in every NHL arena two decades ago but it's not viewed as necessary by today's owners and governors to do the same with Crosby and other stars?

"When the issues of the schedule are debated, who comes into your building, there are plenty of teams that are in the West that the West would like to see. And there are plenty of teams that the fans don't care about seeing," Bettman said.

"So for every team you want to see with an Ovechkin and Crosby, there are some teams you don't have an interest in seeing. It's a balancing act. The issue we're discussing was, it was never a discussion that took much serious weight of playing a home-and-home against every team.

"There was just no interest in doing that. So we're really talking about five clubs in a given year. And that was the issue. And again, because we're in the middle of a cycle, everybody ultimately concluded it was best to continue the cycle."

It's a disgrace that, on one hand, the NHL is trying to sell Crosby and Ovechkin as the "face" of a new generation of stars for years to come. On the other hand, it's telling people it's not important if they visit your city because they were sick the one night in three years they were supposed to be on the ice.

The NBA makes certain its stars visit every city. It's a travesty to think the NHL can't do it. This is about selfish interests among ownership.

Cal Nichols, the chairman of the Edmonton Oilers, was dead on. It's time to think about what's best for the game - not your own club.

Kapanen's status

Sami Kapanen says he wants to be re-signed by the Flyers and has decided he's not retiring, as the organization thought he might.

"I've told [general manager Paul Holmgren] I want to come back. I feel good, and I think I can play a few more years," Kapanen said.

He said his intention has been misconstrued because of injuries in the 2004 playoffs, when he told people he would retire.

"I didn't feel good back then, but that is not the case now," he said. He also said his family has come to like the South Jersey area and doesn't want to relocate.

One of the reasons Kapanen was not considered to wear the "C" this season was because Ken Hitchcock, then the Flyers coach, was convinced he would retire in 2007. "He never asked me about that," Kapanen said.


Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio

at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.

Tim Panaccio Inquirer Columnist
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