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How to add fun to the NHL All-Star skills competition

Embrace players’ creativity with a shootout competition and hockey H-O-R-S-E.
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, center, smiles as he is congratulated by teammate Steven Stamkos, left, and Erik Karlsson, right, after scoring a "no shot" goal for a hat trick during the NHL All-Star game Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 in Tampa, Fla. [CHRIS O'MEARA | AP]

The NHL teased us. The league tweeted a video that interspersed past All-Stars skills competition footage with video of team dogs, including the Lightning’s Bolt, running across rinks and through arena concourses.

The tweet asked: “Who has your vote for Fastest Pup?"

Alas, team dogs are not going to race this weekend in St. Louis. The tweet was just to promote the NHL All-Stars Skills competition (8 p.m. Friday, NBCSN).

But it got us thinking. That would be a much-loved addition to the all-star festivities. Here are some other ideas:

Shootout competition

We are all still talking about Nikita Kucherov’s no-shot goal from the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa. He skated in on Washington’s Braden Holtby with the puck on his stick and faked going to the backhand, letting the puck slide past his stick and between the goalie’s legs.

That was during the actual game, but what if it were an actual part of the skills competition?

There’s already a shootout-style save competition for goalies. It can get a little boring when the shooters aren’t doing a whole lot, so make it a two-part competition.

While the goalies are judged on their save streaks (though, I’d vote for number of saves), the skaters are judged on their shots. Pick a player from each all-star team to judge shots 1-10, like in figure skating, and let them have at it. We might see players pick up the puck and fire it out the air. A spin-o-rama is always fun.

Related: Five players who could be all-stars if it weren't for their flashier teammates

Hockey H-O-R-S-E

Pick a shot and match it. H-O-R-S-E is a backyard basketball game, but let’s apply it to hockey. Embrace the creativity of the game’s goal scorers. Maybe it’s a tough-angle wide shot. Maybe they come in hot on the move and add a cross-over. Maybe someone tries the lacrosse goal. The first skater picks the shot and the next one has to match it. Classic H-O-R-S-E rules, on ice.

Two-on-one

Get the defensemen involved. Defense really isn’t a part of the all-star game, in this sport or any other, so let’s give them a highlight.

Asked if he had any ideas for defensemen, the Lightning’s Victor Hedman did not have much, offering up something with a poke check. We couldn’t think of a great way to make that into a competition. Similar to the save streak competition, this one would pit defensemen in a two-on-one and they’d need to prevent the goal.

Granted, this is probably the least likely of our ideas. A large part of defending two-on-ones is laying out and blocking shots. Blocking shots carries a higher chance of injury than just about anything else in the all-star game (there isn’t much hitting). So this one might not actually be very popular. But we tried.

Related: Women's three-on-three could be the best hockey of NHL's all-star weekend

Bring the dogs

What about that team pup race? The NHL could do just about anything with the dogs and it would be a hit.

Which dog fetches the most pucks? Which player can wrest the most gear from his team dog trying to run away with it? Which dog obeys its human amongst the distractions of a full arena? Anything you do with dogs will have a cute factor and be a hit with fans.

Shooting stars

This one is not our idea, but the league’s newest event, which definitely fits into the nature of this list, so we’re sharing it.

Players will be on an elevated platform in the stands, about 30 feet from the ice, shooting at targets of varied point values. It’s a bit like Top Golf for hockey.

Each player (eight NHL all-stars and one from each the American and Canadian women’s all-star teams competing in a three-on-three during the skills competition) will get seven shots. There are rules for bouncing pucks and deflections that have different points associated.

You don’t know how a new competition is going to go until it happens. The passing accuracy event didn’t sound nearly as boring as it is live, but this sounds fun. I’d happily substitute this for shooting at targets in the net.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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