x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Skills and fantasy draft get all stars from fans

While the game has become a laughing stock, the All-Star NHL weekend has grown into a fan-friendly affair that is a welcome respite and great celebration.

The NHL's biggest names might play in the All-Star Game, but the contest has become a body-check-free exhibition of pond hockey rather than an example of the league's best on best.

One team gets the puck and the other side backs off and lets them pull off a pretty passing play that, more often than not, results in a goal. Then, usually, the team that conceded the goal get their chance for some fancy puck fun. And on and on it goes, until the score is 15-12 and the final horn mercifully sounds.

But you know what? That's OK.

While the game has become a laughing stock, the All-Star weekend has grown into a fan-friendly affair that is a welcome respite and great celebration.

The addition of the skills competition the night before the game - with events such as the fastest skater and hardest shot highlighting the freakish talents of the NHL's brightest stars - was the first step.

It quickly became more compelling than the game itself; players competed with pride and bragging rights on the line. Fans get to see the players laughing and joking and just having some fun.

Last year's introduction of the "fantasy draft", with a couple of team captains going pick by pick until there was nobody left and two teams had been formed, was another breakthrough in player-fan relations.

Even on television, it gives hockey aficionados what they want most: an up-close and personal moment with their favourite players.