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New All-Star format could give a dying game some new life

The Blackhawks had five All-Stars last season, and were joined by former teammate Dustin Byfuglien. (Getty Images)

EDMONTON, Alberta — Put it this way. It can’t be any worse.

The NHL announced Wednesday that the All-Star Game will be changed to a 3-on-3 tournament. Each of the four divisions will have a team with six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies. The two Eastern Conference teams will play a 20-minute game, followed by the two Western Conference teams. And the winners will play a third 20-minute game for a $1 million prize.

It’s gimmicky, but the idea is to get players to actually try during the All-Star game. Last year, the game was a 17-12 snoozefest. The highlight of the weekend by far was the fantasy draft two nights earlier, in which the players appeared to be significantly loosened up by some adult beverages.

“I think that change is necessary.” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Some days it’s hard to watch. I think that [they’re] trying to mix it up so there’s competitiveness, there’s some fun. … It’s hard watching sometimes when they’re playing, but the pace of the game isn’t anything close to how they normally play. So hopefully this will be a good change. I think 3-on-3 so far has been a good change, and a new format is needed.”

Marian Hossa has played in five all-star games, and agreed that the league had to do something to make it more competitive.

“I think that the skills competition’s beating the actual all-star game for people — they’re more interested in the skills than the game,” Hossa said. “So I think [the league is] trying to make it more interesting. What do I think about it? Well, 3-on-3 is fun, but I don’t know about playing it so long. It’s a tough choice.”

That’s the sticking point. Nobody’s played 3-on-3 hockey for more than five minutes. Twenty minutes of endless odd-man rushes will be awfully taxing on players for a game that doesn’t count. But Patrick Kane, who’s sure to be on the Central Division roster as the NHL’s leading scorer, said it might have the desired effect. Players still will have to walk a fine line, though.

“It could be entertaining, and I think that’s what we’re looking for in the first place,” he said. “I think all of us are pretty competitive guys, whether it’s a regular game or an all-star game, Olympics, exhibitions, whatever you want to call it. I think all of us want to win every game we’re a part of. [But] even in those games, some guys don’t really play as hard because they don’t want to get injured and they don’t want to put themselves on the line for maybe something that’s not worth it.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus