With the NHL All-Star game having turned into the NFL Pro Bowl for entertainment, they too have completely revamped this contest to enhance interest for viewers and players alike.
Back in the middle of November, the NHL and NHL Players' Association announced the All-Star Game will be transformed into a 3-on-3 All-Star Tournament comprised of three 20-minute games played by divisional all-star teams competing for a winner-take-all $1 million prize.
With the popularity of 3-on-3 overtime this season, the idea was to bring the same excitement with many of the best players in the NHL, competing for cash and division pride. Some of the bigger names like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Alex Ovechkin all will not be in attendance with "injuries", but the game marches on and remembers Wayne Gretzky played in every contest he was voted in. (Just sayin') Here is what we are looking at for NHL picks.
Atlantic vs. Metropolitan
With NHL odds having the Atlantic Division as -140 favorites, my inclination is to back the Atlantic. What I like the playmaking ability of the Lightning's Steve Stamos, the Bruins Patrice Bergeron and the incomparable Jaromir Jagr from Florida. The format is challenging because instead of a coach having the use of full roster for 18 potential skaters for five-minute OT session, he has only nine and is going four times as long for a "game" this is 20 minutes (two 10-minute sessions with break) in length.
There is where the fresher legs of 19 year olds Dylan Larkin (Red Wings) and Aaron Ekblad (Panthers) could help and we know how good a skater P.K. Subban is.
This is not to say the Metropolitan is devoid of top talent, but let's be honest, even if disinterested, Crosby and Ovechkin would add some spice to this roster. Evgeni Malkin (Penguins), Nicklas Backstom (Capitals) and John Tavares (Islanders) can all light the lamp and defensemen Kris Letang (Penguins) and Ryan McDonagh (Rangers) are long time proven commodities.
Because these games will not have the same intensity as OT, hard to get a good read on the goaltenders, but at least they will be able to see the pucks more clearly than in past all-star games, where they could have gotten injured with no defense being played.
Central vs. Pacific
In the second game, the Central gets our call as +130 underdogs. Of course we have no idea on how they might play as units, but any collection that could include Patrick Kane (Blackhawks), Jamie Benn (Stars) and Tyler Seguin (Stars), three of the top four scorers in the league, on the same team, this has to be to anyone's liking. Little doubt Central coach Lindy Ruff and the Dallas coach will pair Benn and Seguin together at various points in this event and he has to like what Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues) and Matt Duchene (Avalanche) can also bring. With the game in Nashville, Predators players James Neal, Shea Weber and Roman Josi will draw loud applause every time they touch the puck.
The Pacific would appear to have the edge in defense with mobile and skilled skaters, led by Drew Doughty (Kings), Brent Burns (Sharks) and Mark Giordano (Flames). The tandem in net of Jonathan Quick (Kings) and John Gibson (Ducks) should be better than Devan Dubnyk (Wild) and Pekka Rinne (Predators). The Pacific also has the most interesting player in the game in John Scott. As a lark, Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy podcast told listeners to vote for Scott, who was up and down to minors as journeymen for Arizona. Once voted captain of the Pacific, we was traded to Montreal and is back in the minors. Talk about 15 minutes of fame!
It seem if the Atlantic wins or even if it is the Metropolitan, they would have advantage, being able to rest instead of quick turnaround. This finale could be like the baseball Home Run Derby, where by the time the two finalists reach that juncture, they are spent.
If the Central is in finals, they could benefit from four Nashville players and crowd support, but at this time, we will stick with the Atlantic.