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Can we please let Columbus have its NHL All-Star Game?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

With all the focus on the Winter Classic and regular-season games being cancelled, the fate of the NHL All-Star Game has been, well, slightly overlooked. In the way that a library closing is overlooked in a hurricane, for example.

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As of last week, the 2013 All-Star Game in Columbus was safe, as deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Dispatch that the cancellation of the game was "not imminent." This is in stark contrast with the chatter around the Winter Classic, which has been formally given soft deadlines for cancellation and is expected to get the axe this week.

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This is the difference between being the jewel of the NHL's regular season and being an event in which many star players don't want to participate and that many fans see as a superfluous, often tedious waste of time. Outrage over the cancellation of the NHL All-Star Game in 2013 likely rivals that of a letter writing campaign to get the Yule Log back on TV for Christmas Eve.

That said: It means something to some hockey fans. Namely the ones in the cities that host the games.

If you've never been to one, it transforms sections of the host sites into hockey heaven: Giant fan fests, community events, banners, signs, a sense of celebration about the Game. Not to mention the in-arena experience, which is exponentially more memorable than watching the going-through-the-motions on TV.

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All of this would have been bestowed upon Columbus, which is a hockey town that could use some streamers and balloons these days.

"Knowing the great fans that are here in Columbus, we're looking forward to what we know will be a great event," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman when the Columbus Blue Jackets were handed the 2013 All-Star Game.

The Winter Classic, one assumes, will be played in Ann Arbor the next time it's played. The NHL should live up to its hype regarding Columbus, and vow to return the All-Star Game to the city the next time one is held, even as it cancels the 2013 edition.

Let's make something clear: There shouldn't be an All-Star Game this season. The players are bitter. The fans don't care. And you can't really honor the stars of this season when there's not even a season to honor.

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The last time we did this lockout thing the 2005 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta was chopped on Nov. 10, 2004. It was the 49th day of the lockout; Halloween is the 46th day of the 2012-13 lockout.

From the AP in 2004:

"To call off something that's a lot of fun for the fans to enjoy is a shame," nine-time All-Star Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers told The Associated Press. "It has no bearing on anything. They still haven't canceled games in January. Why haven't they canceled games in January but they're canceling the All-Star Game?"

Bill Daly, the league's chief legal officer, said this decision "is not tactical at all," saying it was more of a practical decision to free up blocks of hotel rooms and other facilities that would've been needed.

"We had to make a decision on whether making those advance commitments made sense," Daly said in Dallas prior to an open forum with fans. "Given where we are with the status of our negotiations, it didn't warrant making those commitments. ... It's not tactical at all."

(Guess we can be thankful that the lockout stalemate hasn't reached the "open forum with fans" PR spinning this time 'round.)

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From ESPN in 2004, the Thrashers were bummed (most likely because Don Waddell didn't get a chance to trade the All-Star Game for a collection of AHLers and garbage):

"There's never a good time to announce something like this," Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. "I think it goes in line with everything else that's going on. Yes, we're disappointed. But it goes second to the fact we're disappointed at where we're at, not playing hockey. We'll get [the All-Star Game] back here."

No date has been given for a return to Atlanta, which has never hosted the game, but it's believed 2008 is a likely option. Phoenix will host the 2006 All-Star Game, provided the league is operational, and the 2007 bid process is under way.

There was no game in 2006 because of the Olympics, and Dallas got the game in 2007. Atlanta eventually got the game in 2008, and it was a blast thanks to a revamped skills competition and an entertaining main event.

Phoenix, alas, never got its All-Star Game back. From the AP in 2005:

Bettman called the Glendale Arena, opened in December 2003, "an exceptional facility, and we are hopeful the people in Glendale will welcome us back for an All-Star weekend in the not-too-distant future."

Assuming the NHL is in Sochi, there won't be a 2014 NHL All-Star Game. There's probably a bidding process for 2015 already underway, but scrap it: Announce that the Blue Jackets get the game that year after losing it this year. Give the fans and the community something concrete after putting them over as a great venue upon the announcement. Don't Phoenix them.

Make this seem like something more than a fan base getting excited for a game that the League was pretty damn sure wasn't going to happen.

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