Sunday, January 30, 2011

In Defense of the NHL All-Star Game

As the NHL All-Star festivities have come and gone for yet another season after a one year hiatus due to the Olympics and all the usual comments are being thrown out.  The game is "stupid," the players "don't care," it's "a waste of fans' time" and yet one more thing the NHL "gets wrong" on so many levels.

I actually disagree, I have to take the opposite stance on this one.  I think the NHL's All-Star format is the best of any of the major American Sports (because fuck you soccer).  I also think the NHL has taken the most drastic steps of any of the four (NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB) leagues to enhance its All-Star game.

Let's look at this from a practical standpoint and compare it to the golden child of American sports, the NFL.  Both are physical sports, and both have several players in desperate need of time to rest and heal.  Hell, in the NHL, two of the game's best and most marketable players, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin have missed a bunch of games this season due to injury.  That's bad the the league, and much as I hate those two players, it's bad for the fans as well.

The fact of the matter is, that like the NFL, NHL players need a bye to rest and recuperate.  The NHL equivalent to that, considering the number of games, would be five games worth of time, or a week and a half to two weeks.  Due to the nature of schedules, and the culture of hockey, it isn't really feasible to stagger bye weeks for every team over a 2-3 month period through the NHL season, so we get what we have now, a week off with no regular season games.

That brings me to the current filler, the All Star Festivities.  Rather than have a whole lot of nothing during that time, we have the newly christened Fantasy Draft, the Skills Competition, and the All-Star game itself.  The Fantasy Draft drew some criticism because no one really knew how it would go, people raised the possibility of teammates hurting each other's feelings (preposterous since these are the same people that point out that those same players don't care about the game...can't have it both ways), and it seemed like a really boring thing to watch.

I was right there with that crowd.  I turned it on to see how it went, expecting to get bored within a few picks.  While I wasn't riveted to my television, I was genuinely entertained by the event.  The NHL's various personalities really don't get enough time to shine, and any time you can shove a microphone in front of a bunch of players, you usually get some pretty good entertainment.  I wound up watching the entire thing, laughing at Phil Kessel for being ugly and unwanted and I applaud the NHL for stepping outside the box and trying way harder and being way more intelligent about finding ways to make the game interesting.  (Cough*NFL, MLB* cough).  Better than having Patrick Elias on a horrible New Jersey team fuck his way through an ASG because there's no chance his team will be able to take advantage of home ice in the Cup Finals, or not having players from the two best teams in the league in attendance.

I think most people like the skills competitions.  It's pretty fun to watch players goof off and dangle around and interesting to learn about Matt Duchene's drinking habits.

I did think it ran a bit long, and while I did enjoy seeing Tim Thomas make an ass of himself (who doesn't?), I really didn't need to see him race Cam Ward around the rink.  I could also probably go without seeing a lot of the events done multiple times, like the relay event.

Then there's the game itself.  Hockey purists HATE the All-Star Game.  It isn't "real hockey," the players "don't care," and the game is "boring."  All of those have varying degrees of truth, but most of the blame for that can be placed on the fans themselves and on the league.

The expectations for the game are a bit unrealistic.  If I wanted to watch "real hockey" there are 20+ weeks of that during the regular season.  There are 2,460 games of it.  I can handle one without it.  I don't need to see the players try to kill each other, try to fight, or try to pull Washtroit Capitings stick infractions.  I really think in that, fans are expecting something entirely unrealistic.  The purpose of the game is really to try and get some of these players away from their canned interviews where they reiterate the same three points (working hard, winning battles, getting pucks in deep) during the regular season and expose some of their personalities.  This is where some of the onus starts to fall on the league.  I am thoroughly annoyed with the fact that the NHL seems hell bent on turning hockey into a family game by taking a stance against fighting and in trying to neuter the players.  There should be microphones everywhere during the entire weekend, and if a guy lets an f-bomb slip out, so what?  Let these guys be guys.

The truth is that as much as fans rail against the ASG, it's probably a good thing for the league and for its exposure.  If the NHL eliminated the game and instituted some sort of Bye-week system, purists would cheer (probably right after their daily puppy drowning sessions...or they'd bitch about the bye weeks instead) and the other 90% of hockey fans would bitch and moan that there was no All-Star game and no skills competition to watch.

However, that isn't to say there isn't plenty of room for improvement.

Just a few quick hits of my ideas before I get tired of writing this damn thing:
  • More microphones everywhere, less crowd shots, no panel of morons involving Pierre McGuire during the draft.
  • Get the damn thing on ESPN and use a combination of Melrose, Burnside, Lebrun, Buccigoss, and/or Barnaby.
  • Chop down the skills comp to two hours max.
  • Have two broadcasting teams, a family friendly one, and one that can air swearing on another channel.
  • Helmet cams EVERYWHERE!
  • Chop down a line of forwards to get each player more exposure.  It's not like they skate hard anyways.


  1. good read. I enjoy the entire all-star weekend. I don't know why so many people have problems with it. It's sort of a laid back thing, fun to watch. Nice article.

  2. I like your ideas at the end, but I'd like to add one to it. Requiring that every team be represented on the ASG team, not just giving their rookies a chance in the skills competition. Every team has at least one player that is worthy of being in the ASG. Fans can be idiots. Let them vote the starting line/goalies, but not decide who makes it there. That is one thing that MLB gets right. I also think that making the game worth something (i.e. MLB and home field advantage for the World Series) is really pointless.

  3. @Kevin.
    Yeah, it's nice to watch the skill guys dangle with nothing riding on it.

    Definitely like including a player from every team, keeps the fans interested. Ditto about the lineups. The one thing I can think about having riding on the ASG is maybe having the players from the winning squads' NHL teams have 42 home games, and 40 away games the following season. A lot of the players would go for one less travel headache, even the ones on teams that won't make the playoffs, but it's not super significant like deciding home field for the cup finals.