NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “Chaos,” the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh said when asked what he expects Sunday at the NHL All-Star Game.
The league would be fine with that. Anything to goose interest in a tradition that has become relevancy-challenged for every major pro sport.
The NHL was not about to do something as radical as Major League Baseball and grant home-ice advantage for the Stanley Cup Final based on an All-Star result, but on Sunday it will unveil its own outside-the-box solution.
Rather than anything resembling an actual game, the league will hold a three-on-three tournament consisting of three periods played entirely with three skaters a side.
The Atlantic Division will face the Metropolitan and the Central will meet the Pacific — with the order to be determined based on Saturday night’s skills competition — and the winners will play for the championship and a $1-million championship pot.
Goalies are less than ecstatic about the idea, but All-Star Games always have been long days at the office for them. The skaters mostly have embraced it.
“It’s going to be fun, I think,” Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson said. “It’s going to be entertaining for everyone watching and for the players themselves, since it’s not a real game.”
The plan is to give everyone seven shifts per minigame, which figures to be exhausting but interesting. One hope is that with so much space to roam, players can go all out with less fear of injury.
“There’s more ice and I think fans want to see players play a little harder, try a little harder,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “Guys obviously don’t want to get hurt, and in three-on-three, you can go a little harder and you know there are not going to be a lot of hits and your percentage of getting hurt is not as high.”
The three-on-three idea grew out of this season’s change in regular-season overtime rules, in which rather than going four-on-four for five minutes, teams play three-on-three. It has been a hit with fans and reduced the number of shootouts needed to decide games. (A shootout will be used Sunday if a minigame ends in a tie.)
Naturally, the fastest skaters are the most excited about Sunday’s action. Less so is soon-to-turn 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr of the Panthers.
“I don’t think I’m going to play much three-on-three,” he said. “I don’t play it much in Florida and we have the same coach here [in Gerard Gallant]. This time I won’t mind.”
All eyes will be on how Pacific Division captain John Scott, a 6-8, 260-pounder who initially was elected by fans as a joke candidate, handles all that open ice — and how fans greet him.
“I hope the fans cheer and they’ll take it for what it is,” he said. “It’s obviously an anomaly. I’m not the typical All-Star, and it’s probably not going to happen again.”
McDonagh, a defenseman, laughed when pondering the notion of filling his customary role trying to prevent scores. “There will be plenty of highlight-reel goals, I’m assuming,” he said.
The Islanders’ John Tavares scored four goals in last year’s All-Star Game in Columbus and figures to be a key force for the Metropolitan. But no one knows exactly what to expect.
“It will be different,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll be similar to old All-Star Games where you’ll see early a feeling-out process. But I’m sure as the game picks up and the game’s close, guys will pick up the intensity and play and obviously try and put on a good show.
“It should be entertaining.”
That’s the idea.