NHL Should Hold Skills Competition Night Before Winter Classic to Maximize Excitement

NHL Should Hold Skills Competition Night Before Winter Classic to Maximize ExcitementIt's the All-Star Break. The NHL's best and brightest have gathered in Ottawa for the mid-winter classic. At least some of them. Some, like Alex Ovechkin, are avoiding the game because of philosophical differences with Brendan Shanahan. Others are feeling too banged up to make the trip.

There are three Bruins on hand for the game, along with coach Claude Julien behind the bench. The break couldn't have come at a better time for the B's, with the team playing .500 hockey over the final seven games and looking particularly fatigued in the 5-3 loss to the undermanned Capitals in the final game before the break.

The Bruins need to figure out how to get the team back on track after the break. The trading deadline is a little more than a month away and Peter Chiarelli will have to take a cold, hard look at this roster and see if new blood is needed to kick the team into gear.

The league has more immediate concerns on its hands. All-Star games are meant to be celebrations of the game, a highlight in the midst of a long marathon of a season. Hockey's All-Star game has lost its appeal. Top players no longer feel the need to attend. Hardcore fans know the game, played without hitting and without a physical element, doesn't resemble the sport they love.

Worst of all is the fact that the casual fan doesn't care about the All-Star Game, either. If Ovechkin can't be expected to play in the game, why should we be expected to watch it?

The problem is the All-Star Game is being overshadowed by the NHL's Winter Classic. There was much more hype surrounding the Jan. 2 game in Philadelphia than there is surrounding this weekend's events in Ottawa. The league has created a marquee midseason event with its outdoor game, but it has done so at the expense of the All-Star Game.

If the NHL wants to recapture some of the excitement surrounding a gathering of All-Stars, it should do away with the game itself. Round up All-Stars for the Skills Competition, a celebration of the sport that has become more popular than the game itself. Hold the relay and shootout and hardest competition, but change one thing.

Hold the Skills Competition outdoors, the night before the Winter Classic. You could tap into the hype surrounding the outdoor game, incorporate the All Star gathering in the HBO 24/7 series, and do away with the loss of a weekend in late January. Why not bring your top players together for the sport's biggest weekend?

It's a simple fix, and one that could go a long way toward making both events even bigger. We wouldn't have to worry about fantasy player drafts and who wins the Phil Kessel Award as the last man standing.

Until then, we'll keep an eye on the high-scoring All-Star Game — taking the over on goals and the under on hits. And we'll wait for the start of the game's unofficial second half, when the Bruins get back to the business of defending their Stanley Cup.

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