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The NHL should use World Cup-style rosters at the All-Star Game

Teams North America and Europe stole the show at the World Cup of Hockey. Here’s how the NHL can bring that style of roster construction around more often by combining it with the All-Star Game.

World Cup Of Hockey 2016 - Team North America v Sweden Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When the NHL originally announced the concepts for Teams North America and Europe for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, many hockey fans seemed to dismiss the idea as nothing more than a gimmick.

The idea of putting a team of “Young Guns” together to showcase the level of talent among young players in the NHL, despite the fact they weren’t from the same country, is quite silly. Add in the fact that these elite talents were now ineligible to represent their own countries, and it certainly seemed like an unfavorable circumstance. Additionally, patching a team of European players together because their country wasn’t chosen to be represented at the World Cup was a bit strange.

Still, the NHL went forward with these rosters, and it turned about to be a rather wise decision. Team North America’s collection of exciting players like Connor McDavid, Brandon Saad, and Aaron Ekblad allowed it to be one of the most competitive teams in the round robin stage of the tournament, as well as arguably the most fun team to watch.

Meanwhile, Team Europe was allowed to add the impressive talents of Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa, and Tomas Tatar to its roster and make a run to the final round against Team Canada. While they did lose get swept by Canada in the best-of-three final series, it’s obvious that the ability to pick and choose the best remaining European players for their roster allowed Team Europe to put a strong group together.

Team Europe and Team North America proved that while the concept behind their construction was perhaps bit of a gimmick, these rosters can truly be a good thing.

Similarly, when the NHL decided to change its overtime format to 3-on-3 hockey last season, many dismissed this idea as a gimmick. Obviously 3-on-3 hockey is not traditional hockey — the likelihood that there would be just six skaters on the ice at any time during a normal hockey game is extremely small — but the format quickly proved to be very fun and entertaining to watch. Allowing teams to put their best players on the ice with nearly double the space available to them resulted in countless fun moments during the 2015-16 season.

And when the NHL decided to embrace this format even more when it changed the All-Star Game to a 3-on-3 tournament, many called this gimmicky as well. However, when the time for the All-Star Game came around, hockey fans witnessed the best and most fun All-Star weekend in recent memory. The 3-on-3 format with the NHL’s best players and biggest stars all in one place created a fast paced, fun weekend for both players and fans alike, and actually made the All-Star Game fun to watch.

Again, the World Cup rosters and All-Star format both started out as apparent gimmicks, but turned out to be a lot of fun. So what if the NHL could combine these two concepts and create a weekend of gimmicks-turned-fun? I think they could do it by constructing the teams this way.

There would still four teams in the 3-on-3 All-Star tournament, but they would not represent each of the four NHL divisions as they did last year. Instead, we would embrace three of the NHL’s roster “gimmicks” from the World Cup, with a Team Europe, an Under-23 “Young Guns” team, and a Team North America. It’s important to note that the the Young Guns squad and North America squad would be separate in this tournament. The fourth team would be a collection of the NHL’s best players over the age of 35.

Team North America would be comprised of the best players from Canada and USA, bringing together players from one of the fiercest rivalries in international hockey. The draw here is quite obvious: several of the NHL’s best players are from these two countries, including the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Joe Pavelski.

The only drawback to this roster would be the pure number of elite Canadian and/or American talents that would be left off this team due to it’s small size. You also may need to consider having a set number of Canadians and Americans that had to be on the roster, in order to prevent there being an overstock of Canadians. Still, there is no denying that an extremely impressive team would be built using players from these two countries, and it’d likely be the favorite to win the tournament.

The European team would be made up of the NHL’s best players from all European countries, rather than only a select few. That means Alex Ovechkin, Erik Karlsson, and Anze Kopitar would all be among the players eligible to play for the European All-Star team. Again, there are a several of the NHL’s best players that hail from overseas, including the three I mentioned previously, so you would have a lot of elite talents to choose from in constructing this roster. It also might allow All-Star caliber players who are often passed over, like Niklas Hjalmarsson, the opportunity to become All-Stars.

However, the European team would face the same sort of issue that the North American team would, in that there are so many All-Star worthy players from Europe that there would be the risk of leaving several elite players off the team. Also, with countries like Sweden and Russia being so well-represented, the limit for how many players form a certain country may be necessary here, as well.

The Young Guns squad would be made up of the NHL’s best players with under the age of 23, just like Team North America was at the World Cup. Again, being able to combine Connor McDavid with players like Nathan MacKinnon and others from the World Cup team is an awesome opportunity, and the NHL would be wise to continue to embrace the amount of elite young talent their league has. If immediately implemented, the team may feel like a bit of a re-run because of how many players would be on the roster for a second time, but as the NHL continues to bring elite young players into the league, the turnover of this team would be quite fun.

The over-35 team, would could be affectionately called the “Old Dogs,” would compile the league’s best players of 35 years of age or older. Players like Hossa, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton and others have seemingly gotten better with age, and being able to put several of those players on the same team would create a fun squad of veterans, as well as a team that several fans can get behind. The biggest obstacle with this squad would probably be actually convincing the older players to give up a weekend off to go and play more hockey, but if they could be convinced there’s a lot of potential for the Old Dogs squad to be one of the most popular at All-Star weekend.

The NHL has introduced a few ideas over the past year that originally seemed silly and yet proved themselves to be very smart. The All-Star format and World Cup squads have both proven to be among those ideas. But with the NHL apparently set to move to more country teams in the next World Cup, embracing the World Cup roster constructions at the All-Star Game would be a great way to keep this fun concept around in the future.