The American Hockey League has been the testing ground for many improvements we’ve later seen in the NHL.
With the All-Star game becoming a decidedly washed up and dull event for many fans, the AHL took the bold step of creating something a little different for 2016.
Competition is the name of the game, and it’s hoped this will spark the interest of the fans, media, and more importantly the players taking part.
Replacing the traditional 60-minute game, the league’s all-stars will be divided into four teams, one representing each of the league’s divisions (Atlantic, North, Central, Pacific). The teams will then play a round-robin tournament featuring six games of nine minutes each; the first half of each game will be played at 4-on-4, and the second half at 3-on-3. The two teams with the best records at the end of the round-robin tournament will face off for the championship — a six-minute game played at 3-on-3.
Rosters for each team will be composed of 11 skaters and two goaltenders each. All 30 AHL teams will be represented by at least one All-Star player. The coach for each team will be the AHL head coach whose team has the highest points percentage in each division at the end of play on Dec. 31.
You would have to think that the Marlies would feature heavily in the roster of the North Division team with Sheldon Keefe having a good shot at coaching the team if current form prevails.
AHL CEO Dave Andrews, had this to say in the announcement of this new All-Star concept:
We have been working on developing an All-Star Challenge concept since last spring, and this tournament idea is the result of many discussions with players, coaches and general managers around the league.
We all believe that this will be an exciting showcase event for our players and fans alike as we highlight the skill, energy and excitement that has been a hallmark of the AHL for 80 years.
This isn’t the first occasion that the AHL has tried to liven up its All-Star Game: Team Canada vs. Planet USA, Calder Cup Champions vs. AHL All-stars, the more standard West vs. East that we are used to seeing, and more recently a game against Swedish team Färjestad BK have all been tried as concepts.
What’s different about this incarnation is that it’s a real competition in the sense of the word.
It’ll still be fun in the sense there’ll be plenty of goals and spectacular saves, but players will be playing for more than pride and winning will matter to them. It’s a better showcase and spectacle for everyone involved, with the coaches, passengers in the past, having the opportunity to make an impact.
You aren’t going to please everyone with a sweeping change like this, but I applaud the league in taking a stance in overhauling what was becoming a formulaic and stale event.
Only time will tell if it’s a success that’s here to stay.
The two-day 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic, held over January 31 and February 1, will be hosted by the Syracuse Crunch at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, N.Y.
The All-Star Skills Competition on day one will keep its traditional format, with the All-Stars from the two Eastern Conference divisions squaring off against the All-Stars from the two Western Conference divisions in seven skills events.
If it’s the same as last year, these will include Puck Control Relay, Fastest Skater, Rapid Fire, Hardest Shot, Accuracy Shooting, Pass and Score and the Breakaway Relay.
It’s always fun to speculate which players might make the team, with William Nylander and T.J Brennan the obvious contenders to represent Toronto at this stage.
Recent Toronto Marlies players to have featured are Connor Brown (2015), T.J Brennan and Spencer Abbott (2014), Mike Kostka, Ryan Hamilton and Head Coach Dallas Eakins in 2013, while way back in 2012 it was Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne.
The rosters are normally announced around the first or second week in January, with the head coaching position formalized by the standings at the turn of the New Year.