As far as professional all-star games go, the NHL affair is typically non-eventful since it isn’t really competitive when compared to the NBA and Major League Baseball. The main reason for this is because the physical aspect of the sport is absent as nobody wants to suffer an injury. NHL stars usually engage in a game of pond hockey and rack up the score on the poor goaltenders. However, the recent 2015/16 all-star encounter in Nashville proved to be somewhat different as it created a controversy or two.
For starters, the NHL drastically changed the game’s format from the regular five-on-five contest to a three-on-three tournament. Each of the league’s four divisions was represented by an 11-man team with each squad playing a 20-minute game. The two winners then met in the final with the victors being awarded a prize of a million dollars. In case you missed it, The Pacific Division edged the Atlantic 1-0 in the final. The million dollars was controversial in itself since many fans felt it should have been donated to a charity of the winning team’s choice.
The new format had many purists up in arms since they believe three-on-three hockey is nothing but a novelty or farce and even some of the players appeared to agree with them. The NHL needed to do something to spice up the all-star event though as fans were getting a little bored with the high-scoring shinny games of the past such as last year’s 17-12 result. And what better way to do liven things up than changing to a three-on-three format, which is the same thing the league has done for overtime games this season.
Another ongoing controversy leading up to the game was the inclusion of enforcer John Scott. The NHL allowed fans to vote in the captain of each team and to the league’s dismay, Scott was elected as the skipper of the Pacific Division while he was still a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Now fans either took advantage of this situation to show the NHL it was a flawed system or they figured they’d just vote for Scott as a joke. Either way, he was nominated to the squad and the league was left with egg on its face.
The NHL tried to persuade Scott from playing the game and suggested he show up for the weekend with his family, but simply not dress for the tournament. Scott’s own team even tried to make things difficult for the six-foot-eight forward by placing him on Waivers on December 18th. Arizona felt one of its young stars such as Max Domi or Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be a better representative in Nashville. Scott was then traded to the Montreal Canadiens on January 15th and sent directly down to the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League.
This was another move which the NHL hoped would change Scott’s mind about attending the all-star contest, but it also failed. In the end, there was a fairytale ending for Scott as the career five-goal scorer netted a pair of goals and added an assist in the all-star tournament to help lead his team to victory. The fans also got their way again as they voted the 33-year-old the most valuable player and Scott took home a brand new Honda SUV as his reward.
But perhaps the most controversial event during the all-star weekend took place a day earlier during the skills competition. Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings set a new speed record after skating a lap around the rink in 13.172 seconds to break the previous mark of 13.386 seconds set by a 36-year-old Mike Gartner back in 1996. However, many fans believe the 19-year-old rookie Larkin received a decided advantage since he a started his lap at the blue line and was as at full speed when the stop watch began when he reached centre ice. Gartner’s lap started from a standing-still position at centre ice.
In addition, it’s debatable whether or not the nets were moved forward further this year during the skating event, which made for a slightly shorter lap. Fans can judge for themselves by watching footage of both Gartner and Larkin as the skate their respective laps.