What should the NHL do with the All-Star Game?
Greg Wyshynski: The All-Star Game has become one of those events derided by everyone who isn’t onsite for it, because those in attendance usually have a blast. It’s a massive multiday celebration of hockey bestowed upon an NHL city. And it’s super fun.
That said, I’m rather intrigued by a report by Chris Johnston on Hockey Night in Canada over the weekend: That the league might dump the All-Star Game in the near future in favor of an event overseas.
The NHL has been inching toward this concept for years, tracking back to when John Collins was the league’s COO. There was speculation two years ago that the 2018 All-Star Game might be scrapped in favor of a Ryder Cup-style tournament that would take place weeks before the Winter Olympics, if the NHL ended up not participating. (It didn’t, and one assumes the prolonged negotiations with the IOC led to a fallback position in the Tampa All-Star Game.)
Now, why would the NHL go for this? Because it can profit from it, market its stars to international markets and take a breather from inventing new All-Star Game formats every three years or so.
Why would the owners go for this, when they soundly rejected the notion of stopping the season for an Olympic break? Because they can profit from it, and the NHL can saturate the event with league and team branding that the IOC had denied them. Why would the players go for it? Because they can profit from it, and because the players I’ve spoken to about the concept prefer a midseason international event to a preseason one (*cough* World Cup *cough*) for fitness reasons. Oh, and the 85 percent of players that won’t play in the tournament will also get a nice tension-breaking vacation.
Why would fans go for this? Because despite our gripes, a Ryder Cup style mini-tournament between North America vs. Not North America would be incredibly fun, if a temporary fix for Olympic hockey junkies. And unlike the All-Star Game, star players might not feign injury to get out of it! But c’mon, who are we kidding? We know what we all want to get out of a Ryder Cup hockey tournament: CANADA VS. THE WORLD, a.k.a. “win or we’ll never hear the end of it.”
While I’d like to see this tournament, I don’t wish death on the All-Star Game. In fact, I hope it rises from the ashes in a beautiful new goofy format that makes everyone angry.
Emily Kaplan: I keep going back to what Kevin Shattenkirk told me in September at NHL Media Day. I asked all players if they could make one rule change to improve the NHL, what it would be? The Rangers defenseman, like many of his peers, said he wanted to play in the Olympics. But listen to his rationale: “There are different ways to change the game and make it different or better,” Shattenkirk said. “But the Olympics are the best way to grow the game and I think that’s what we need most right now: to increase our footprint on the world.”
All-Star Games across all sports have lost their luster. We’re way past the point of Pete Rose barreling to home base and colliding with the catcher (1970, MLB All-Star Game). I can’t remember the last time I tuned into an All-Star Game simply for the competition. Like, “Hey, I’d really love to see what it looks like for Aaron Rodgers to throw a pass to Julio Jones, running a route at 75 percent. And hey, what would it be like if Josh Norman was covering him!? Well, first let’s hope Norman actually wants to play and doesn’t want to risk injury by lacing up his cleats for one more meaningless game.” The NBA is trying to revive its format by nixing East vs West for a captain’s format — triggering serious nostalgia for middle school recess — but I’m skeptical if that will bring more competitiveness to the game.
Now the NHL All-Star Game has a few things going for it. The skills competition is fantastic. It’s a rare opportunity when players showcase personality. The weekend is also a terrific way to showcase different American markets, serving as a celebration for their fans. However, the concept of the event itself could use a total reset. And if NHL looked in the mirror, one of its biggest issues is an ongoing battle with visibility. So, as Shattenkirk said, you want to make the sport “different and better,” why not try something that would address that? Take the event abroad. Try to expand your global footprint. But keep the skills competition, please. That’s one of the things that hasn’t gotten stale.
Chris Peters: I am fully aware that I’m going to be in the minority on this one, but I honestly would like to keep the All-Star Game. The NHL would have to come up with something incredibly compelling on the international front to make it worthwhile to scrap. That something, in my mind, would absolutely have to include a reunion tour for Team North America from the World Cup playing anybody. If they do that, I’m in.
Seriously, though, I can’t help but think about the way I viewed the All-Star Game as a kid. I lived for that weekend and the chance to see my favorite players with the best the NHL had to offer. The mystique is gone as an adult, of course, save for the still-compelling and fun skills competition. Seeing as I can no longer view the event through the lens of a 10-year-old, I don’t want to risk taking the potential for that same experience away from actual 10-year-olds.
I also think the All-Star Game remains a fantastic event for the fan base of the team that hosts it. Although the NHL absolutely should be concerned about TV ratings and exposure, the event they put on for the cities they hold these events at helps them build capital in smaller doses. Nashville’s timing for getting the All-Star Game in 2016 was kind of perfect. It was the best All-Star weekend in ages (thanks, John Scott!) and it offered small taste of what was to come for a market that probably had no idea they were only a year away from a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
If I thought there was an alternative out there that could allow the league to celebrate the game, honor their dedicated fans and also engage casual fans, I’d be all in. That said, I think the NHL can continue to tweak things to add more wrinkles of intrigue for the fans they already have. The All-Star Game itself is an imperfect product, but there is enough there for me to see its value of the overall event and its ability to connect with young fans and the markets they’re held in.