Normally, the All-Star Game is for sponsors, fanatics and appreciators of neon. But this year is different for a number of reasons. What are those reasons, you ask? Below, we answer.
Your cheat sheet for the All-Star Game:
Where and when?: The game this year is in Nashville, Tennessee, which isn't a secret, necessarily, or even all that dirty. But what might not be widely known is that Nashville is among the favorite cities for players and media to visit on road trips. Oh, and game time is 5 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Is there more than just the game? There will be a skills competition on Saturday (7 p.m. ET) but no fantasy draft, the name of which the players seemed to take literally in years past (as in beer).
So, yeah, the overall format is new: Let's start with the teams. Each of the four divisions is represented by a team, and each team has a captain who was nominated by the fans in an online vote. (More on that later.) Those captains will select the participants in the skills competition, but their tournament teams were chosen for them by the league, as opposed to in recent years when they chose their own teams in the aforementioned free-for-all fantasy draft that resulted in this legendarily awkward moment of a millionaire being the last pick. Each team has two targets, er, goalies, three defensemen and six forwards.
The actual game is different, too: The official NHL release explains it best, so let's steal it: "Each game in the three-game, 3-on-3 tournament will be 20 minutes in length, with two 10-minute periods per game. There will be a hard whistle at the 10-minute mark of each game. At this time, teams and goalies will change ends." In the event of exhaustion, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. Place the mask on your face first and then assist others. During the season, the 3-on-3 overtime is no more than five minutes long, so the All-Star version will be four times as long and with half as many players to draw from. It's going to be a bag skate, people.
OK, but how do you win?: The Pacific and Central Divisions will face off in one semifinal; the other semifinal will feature the Metropolitan versus the Atlantic. The winners of each game will meet in the championship final. This is not the trophy that the winner will be given.
Careful of the Internet: John Scott is the captain representing the Arizona Coyotes (not really; long story) and the Pacific Division (also not really), even though he was traded two weeks ago to the Montreal Canadiens, who sent him immediately to the minors in St. John's, Newfoundland (yes, really), where he has been a healthy scratch (yup). The campaign to elect Scott was started by Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy podcast and grew from there, sort of like what happened with Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres last season and Rory Fitzpatrick of the Vancouver Canucks, who was voted into the game in 2007 thanks to the Rory Vote-O-Matic browser add-on. Of course. Back in the real world, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks is the captain of the Central Division, Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers is the captain of the Atlantic Division and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (who has pulled out due to injury) is the captain of the Metropolitan Division.
Punching a ticket: The reason the previous item is funny and uncomfortable at the same time is that Scott, an incredibly affable and likable sort, is known as an "enforcer," which is hockey talk for "the guy who punches guys in the face, because hockey." He has five goals. In 285 NHL games. To go along with 542 minutes in penalties, most of which were taken by punching other guys in the face. In this crowd, he's pretty much a scoundrel. The NHL reportedly offered Scott the opportunity to gracefully bow out, to go to Nashville and enjoy the festivities but not play, but he was having none of it. Oddly, it's also likely to be Scott's last game in the NHL because the enforcer role is disappearing, the Canadiens don't really need him and Scott is 33. Perhaps a reason Scott is opting to play: his NHL salary is $575,000, by far the lowest of the All-Stars; the winning team of the All-Star Game gets to split $1 million.
Sitting it out: Sidney Crosby, long considered the best player in the game, isn't playing, but the secret here is that he hasn't exactly been an enthusiastic participant over the years, having played in only one All-Star Game in his entire career. Ovechkin (lower-body injury) and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews (illness) will also be spectators, and all three will be required to miss their team's first game after the break as a result. Most players like to take the four-day break to recuperate and spend time with their families during the hard slog that is the season. Wayne Gretzky played in every All-Star Game he was voted into over the course of his 20-year career. Just going to leave that there.
Backing vocals: The celebrity coaches are bringing some serious rhythm to the game: Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Charles Kelley and Chris Young will join the four NHL coaches on their respective teams. Doing what, no one is quite sure. And for the puckheads out there not familiar with those names, Vince Gill is no relation to Hal. Or Todd.