January 26, 2009
Every NHL All-Star Weekend comes with the typical back and forth banter about how to change the all-star game. Critics complain about how the game has diminished into nothing more than a friendly game of shinny and, by the number of stars who back out of the game, a farcical spectacle.
During CBC's coverage last night, it seemed as if every talking head used the broadcast as an opportunity to get on their soapboxes and throw out their ideas on how to "fix" the All-Star Game. The Globe & Mail's William Houston took notes:
"Reporter Scott Oake passed on a proposal by San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton, who suggested giving the players a cash incentive. Members of the winning team would not be required to pay into the National Hockey League Players' Association escrow account....
... Don Cherry had his own ideas. Give NHL players the responsibility of selecting the all-stars rather than fans. That four Montreal Canadiens filled six of the Eastern Conference starting spots was hardly a realistic representation of the NHL's best, he said. ...
... Perhaps the best idea is to give the all-star weekend a Hockey Day in Canada treatment on Saturday, with features airing on CBC and in the United States on Versus, followed by an amateur game in the afternoon and another in evening.
Make the centerpiece of the weekend the skills competition on Sunday afternoon. And get rid of the all-star game altogether."
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and I share the same attitude towards the All-Star Game, in that it should be accepted for what it is: nothing more than a glorified game of shinny between the top players in the League. Why must it mean something? The players grind it out for 40-plus games before all-star weekend. Why are they supposed to pretend it's a game worth two points in the standings?
After the jump we take a look at three different ideas on changing the All-Star Game for "the better" that have been brought up in discussions.
Home-ice in the Stanley Cup Finals for the winning conference
Major League Baseball started this idea after its commissioner, Bud Selig, allowed the 2002 All-Star Game to end in at tie. When hockey faced that same dilemma at the 2003 NHL All-Star Game, it was decided immediately to head to a shootout and the fans in Sunrise, Florida weren't disappointed.
Teams grind out an 82 game season to get that seventh game on home ice. Do you think Joe Thornton, Zdeno Chara, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Lidstrom (oh, sorry) would have been chirping at their all-star teammates to play better last night? Would we have seen those same guys with smiles from ear to ear knowing a win would have given the possibility of home-ice advantage in the Finals if they made it?
Making the Winter Classic the All-Star Game
There are those that complain that the NHL All-Star Game is nothing more than a bunch of players skating around and not bringing any intensity to the game; so why would you want to see that same type of play in an outdoor setting? How would that make the game itself better? Because of the scenery and party atmosphere in the crowd?
The Winter Classic is something the NHL has gotten right. Why mess with it? If the All-Star Game needs change, that's fine; but to merge two huge revenue-generating events for the League is not good business. This weekend's All-Star Game brought in $10 million dollars in sponsorship activation. The 2009 Winter Classic from Wrigley Field brought in the best overnight television rating for the NHL in the United States in 13 years. Gary Bettman wouldn't want to pass up that kind of dough.
Bringing back North America v. World
This was an okay idea when the NHL was trying to promote its participation in the 1998 Winter Olympics, but after holding it for five consecutive years, it got old. Year after year, deserving players were left off each roster because of their country of citizenship, in order to fill the required spots available. Maybe in the Kontinental Hockey League Marcus Ragnarsson could be an All-Star; but not in the NHL.
I'm also not quite sure how a non-intense, little contact, high-scoring game is supposed to help promote the nature of international hockey on the Olympic stage. There hasn't been a relaxed attitude at the Winter Olympics since the party in Ross Rebagliati's dorm room in Nagano.
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star reported last week that the players' union might push for a rotating schedule every midseason which would see the Olympics, a World Cup, an all-star game and possibly a large hockey convention.
So what do you want to see happen with the NHL All-Star Game come 2011? Next year, Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics, so there will be two years to debate what to do with the game -- should it actually need fixing.