Next All-Star Game, They Should Definitely Light Kovalchuk On Fire

The NHL Closer is written by Greg Wyshynski, of The FanHouse and The Fourth Period. He is also the author of Glow Pucks And 10-Cent Beer.

Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro had two money quotes while mic'd up during the NHL All-Star Weekend skills competition. He informed his Eastern Conference teammates, and the virgin ears listening in on Versus, that he was done for the evening because "I just fucked my hip up again." But before that, he gave some priceless advice to Ilya Kovalchuk before the "trick shot" Breakaway Challenge: "If he could light the puck on fire, or himself, back-flip and then go top shelf, I think he'll win." While the spontaneous combustion of its best players might help, the NHL needs only to follow up on some promising innovations displayed at the All-Star Game to realize the heretofore impossible and make hockey more telegenic. Or, in layman's terms: If I see one more shootout without a helmet-less shooter and a cameraman skating behind him, I'm going to kick a damn puppy.

I know DiPietro's current career trajectory should have him in the Islanders' GM chair by 2023, but I'd give him a shot in the League's marketing department well before that. The kid gets it, or at least he gets what the NHL was trying to do in its headliner event in Saturday night's skills competition: The "slam dunk"-style Breakaway Challenge. DiPietro stayed in his crease and let the skaters do their hot-dog routines before trying to make a save. Compare that to a killjoy like Evgeni Nabokov, who actually skated out and poke-checked Marty St. Louis in the most egregious miscalculation of entertainment by a Kazakh since "The Running of the Jews."

Tweak the Breakaway Challenge format and bring it back - it could be a must-see event with the right players. Watch this Alexander Ovechkin attempt for an indication of its potential — and pay close attention to that last camera angle:

Even a shootout basher like me loves that "following the shooter" camera shot. If the NHL is ever going to reach this Generation: Asshole that just made "Meet the Spartans" the No. 1 movie in the country, it's going to have to create a television product that appeals to them; entering the EA Sports era, like the other three major sports have. You don't have to do something retarded like putting a comet tail on a glowing puck (selfpimp); you start by taking the helmets off the shooters and skating a camera behind them. Then go one step further, and put a cameraman on each bench during the game to film ice-level action. Then take it another step, and drop one of the linesmen for an on-ice cameraman skating with the players. The success of the Winter Classic showed that it's time to get crazy with the television ideas. So, c'mon: Let's get nuts.

Dump the All-Star Game? I went into the All-Star Game believing that Wade Belak belonged there as much as R&B star Ne-Yo, but that was until the latter performed with a live marching band at center ice on Sunday. So the All-Star Game had its moments. But, predictably, this year's overall tepid effort has some asking for the mid-season classic to be abolished. Part of that attitude was born out of a second period that, outside of two minutes of Nabokov vs. Kovalchuk fun, was about as exciting as William Hurt discussing how paint dries. But more than that, I think two decades of the NHL's piss-poor marketing and that life-sucking lockout have stunted the growth of the league's roster of stars. Check out the rosters for 2008 and then check out the roster for the game 15 years ago, and it's pretty obvious why the game faces such scrutiny these days.

Puck Headlines

* Next year's All-Star format: Sub-Aqua Ice Hockey. Finally, extreme hockey for narwhals. [The Big Picture]

* Just kidding. We all know next year's All-Star format is hot gay team versus straight team, featuring players with names like Kirby Pumper. [Angel City's Devil (SFW, thankfully)]

* BETTMAN: "We're going to play in Prague and Stockholm next season." NHLPA: "Just make sure that when you announce this at the All-Star Game, you mention that the Players' Association hasn't signed off on it yet." BETTMAN: "LOL, bite me." [Globe and Mail]

* The stars come out for hockey, from Chris Gaines to someone who used to be Matthew Modine to the yummy Alyssa Milano. [FanHouse]

* Marijuana addiction may have come between Kris Draper and Darren McCarty, but their mutual hatred of Claude Lemieux brought them back together. [Detroit Free Press.]

* If Jason Arnott's there, Terrell Owens wouldn't last 30 seconds in an NHL dressing room. [National Post]

* Finally, I'm not sure I'm crazy about the new format for the YoungStars Game: