It's almost NHL All-Star weekend, an annual event where the league's best and some other players come together to play some meaningless but fun hockey. In recent years, it's become cool for people to hate on the All-Star Game, to say it's outdated, it's lost its purpose, or it's boring. The thing is, it can actually be a lot of fun if you allow yourself to enjoy it. It still has its flaws, which is why we're going to look at five cons in addition to five pros of the weekend. We sum up with five ideas to improve the whole experience. Have anything to add to the lists? Let us know in the comments!
1. You get to see players' personalities
This is probably the biggest plus to the ASG. In a league where players like P.K. Subban get the media upset for daring to be flashy, the ASG actually encourages players to show personality. No "Play 60 minutes, get pucks to the net, forecheck hard". You get Alex Ovechkin in a bucket hat and crazy sunglasses. You get Patrick Kane dressed up as Clark Kent. You get Cam Ward telling people he was picked first overall because he's the best player there. You get Eric Staal mic'd up telling everyone he doesn't skate backwards too well. It gets rid of some of the stuffiness from day-to-day hockey interviews.
2. Players try things they otherwise wouldn't
This kind of relates to the first point, but it goes beyond just seeing personality. The players actually prepare for the breakaway challenge. The first year, it seemed to catch everyone by surprise. But now, players come prepared with costumes and with a ridiculous set of tricks to try. Hockey players are fierce competitors, and the ASG gives them a chance to compete in new ways. After all, who can forget the goaltender part of the relay race in 2011?
3. Player comparison
Yes, the setting is artificial when compared to in-game, but it does at least give you some stats for arguing who has the hardest slapshot, or who can skate the fastest. Admit it, it's fun to know just how hard Zdeno Chara can bomb the puck.
4. The NHL has embraced the game as a spectacle
The MLB for some reason uses their ASG to determine which league (National or American) gets home field advantage in the World Series. This ascribes importance to a game that should have none. The NHL, for their part, has done their best to make sure no one takes it too seriously. They went back to the East-West format after North America vs. the World failed, but in recent years they've brought in the fantasy draft. This is (or at least started as) a fun alternative to having default teams, and was designed to make the game as interesting and as meaningless as possible.
5. Playing Style
This isn't a game for trap enthusiasts (sorry New Jersey) or fans of structured defensive systems (ditto Ken Hitchcock). Instead, the ASG showcases a style of game increasingly rare in the cap-era NHL: the offensive barnstormer. I don't really remember much of 80s hockey, with its frequent scoring records, journeymen 40-goal-scorers, low goalie save percentages, and 7-6 games, but the all-star game comes close. It's the one chance hockey fans get to see the mostly-best players in the league focus on offense only.
1. The fantasy draft has gone stale
Remember in the first year when it was all the rage? When the Sedins ended up different teams for the first time in their lives? It was great. Remember the year it was in Ottawa? Daniel Alfredsson picked all the Senators, Chara picked all the Bruins and refused to take any Canucks. This year at least we have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on different teams, but you can still guess what will happen in most cases. This format might have run its course.
2. Representation of every team takes away from the term "All-Star"
Some of the players at the game don't deserve the title of all-star. That's a fact. Some players not invited probably deserve to be there. Most people agree that representing every team is a silly thing the NHL does, and it should probably stop.
3. The occasional nature of the game
NHL participation in the Winter Olympics combined with the 2012-13 lockout mean this year's event in Columbus will be the first ASG since 2012. That's three years. It's hard to build anticipation for an event that isn't held annually. With the NHL seemingly shifting its focus to the World Cup instead of Olympic participation this may change, but for now, the ASG no longer being an annual event isn't working.
4. Lack of consistency
Merchandising has become a big part of the ASG for the NHL. Since the early 90s the mid-season event typically features a new and often garish, design. Typically, these designs have had a more modern touch while some have been more traditional or classic styled (2004's entry for example). However, traditionally the ASG uniforms had a more stable look (1947-59) or stable colours and design features (1973-93). Given how infrequently the game is held, a little visual consistency would be nice.
5. No marquee event
Baseball has the Home Run Derby, basketball has the Slam Dunk Contest, the Pro Bowl has the fact that no one wants to be there, but the NHL doesn't have a similar event. It seems like the league is trying to cultivate the breakaway challenge as a highlight along the lines of the Slam Dunk Contest, but it hasn't taken hold yet. Considering how many fans feel about the shootout, it might never.
1. Play the game outdoors
The Winter Classic has become a staple in the NHL calendar. The Stadium Series has not, but it shows that outdoor games generate interest, regardless of how many there are. We think it would add another layer of excitement to the ASG if the league gave it some of that outdoor magic.
2. Playing the European Champion
Way back in the day, a team of NHL All-Stars took on the defending Stanley Cup champions. That might not be a great idea in this day and age, especially considering how many playoff rounds there are now, but an interesting idea would be to take on the winning team from the European Champions League. This would introduce NHL fans to a bunch of players they don't know, and could also raise the stock of NHL hockey in Europe.
3. Have a fan contest to design the jerseys
This year's all-star jerseys are pretty bad. They're rarely memorable. It could add another layer of excitement if they had a fan contest to design the jerseys. Even if this only happens once every four years or so. It raises fan involvement, and improves the look of the jerseys. Hey, it worked out pretty well for the Senators.
4. Reduce the number of fan-voted players
We disagree on this one, so I (Sheer Craziness) will argue why I think this could help. I love the idea of a fan vote. The idea that Zemgus Girgensons is an all-star is amazing. What I don't like is that the rest of the slots went to Blackhawks. I think most people can agree that Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban would be better entries than Brent Seabrook. What I'd propose is that only three spots (one F, one D, one G) get chosen in the fan vote. Then we can keep the ridiculous vote stories, without handcuffing the league by having way too many players from one team. (Remember when Sens fans stuffed the ballot box for the game in Ottawa?)
I (Amelia) don't mind the fan vote as it's currently constructed. Ultimately, the ASG is supposed to be an event for fans and I for one, welcome Latvian participation. Four Blackhawks are starting? Well, Columbus is a five hour drive and maybe that means the event will be well-attended by Hawks fans. That's a good thing. As long as the rest of the selections aren't hampered by restrictions like every team needs to be represented, I think it's fine to let the fans decide.
5. Connect to hockey history
Lots of NHL history works its way into articles and broadcasts on a regular basis. ASG history gets lost in the shuffle. Why not take the opportunity to honour the 1984 Campbell Conference Team or the 1987 Prince of Wales Conference Team? The ASG is often touted as an event for kids (the skills competition, the silly uniforms, the bright colours) but adding a layer of history might make it more adult-friendly.