by SENShobo on 01/21/09 at 03:41 PM ET
The All-Star Game, pinnacle of (player) perfection, and for a long time, one of the steadiest of occasions.
Not any more; thanks go to the Detroit Red Wings.
The voting fiasco took the early thunder, but this now takes the cake.
Subtle, maybe. Irrelevant, perhaps. But if the fan voting was an assault from a bag of valencia oranges, this should take us up to a battering from a cold, hard fish to the face.
Updated - 5:30PM EST (with my thoughts on some of the comments and discussion)
At first, it doesn’t seem like much. Last year, Rafalski declined; what’s special this time?
For one, this All-Star Game had the reserves selected to bring all 30 NHL teams to the game. Having the utmost respect for NHL players and their accomplishments, there has nonetheless been dissent regarding omissions, with the NHL making selections based on that 30 team goal.
This year, one team will not be represented, that team of course being the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Datsyuk played all but the last few minutes of Detroit’s 6-3 loss to Phoenix last night, and Lidstrom’s two goals made him the hero for Detroit in that lost cause. Both will now step down from the All-Star Game due to injury, with some explanation given for Datsyuk and next to none for Lidstrom.
It would be foolish to suggest that the League didn’t extend any invite to some if not all of Hossa, Zetterberg, Franzen, and Rafalski, but the replacements will instead come from elsewhere: Patrick Marleau will suit up as the third Shark, and Stephane Robidas as the second player from Dallas, Robidas coincidentally being a native of Sherbrooke, Quebec.
Two drop outs from Rafalski in back-to-back years? A trio of extremely talented players all deserving of All-Star inclusion based on their accomplishments in this year and years past, not to mention the 30 team goal? Some fans may not have any interest in the All-Star Game, Detroit fans appearing chief among them now, but this is a bigger snub, one from the players themselves.
Injury, without a doubt, is a valid reason to pass on the event. Participants won’t play Thursday or Friday, with only a practice Saturday, followed by the SuperSkills Competition, and then the All-Star Game on Sunday, sure to be the least physically threatening game any of these players will take part in all season long, with the dearth of penalties, hard or questionable checking, and shot blocking. For a healthy player, there should be no excuse to miss the occasion, unless to directly snub the event, and indirectly the fans who will attend it and follow it from home. Next season, should we expect a further increase, with any team only managing 2nd in their Conference with a mere 7-2-1 record in January holding their players back, or having them pass on the event themselves?
Detroit is far from the only team with pullouts, mind you. Injuries to Boston’s Milan Lucic and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom will see them replaced in the YoungStars Game by Dave Bolland of Chicago and David Perron of St. Louis. Columbus’ stellar Steve Mason needs some rest from a sore back (which should be proven effectively if he sits tonight against Calgary after losing 4-3 to Edmonton last night), and will be replaced by Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, with Price doing double duty in replacing L.A.‘s injured Erik Ersberg. He’s already there for the All-Star Game; what’s a little more work to Montreal’s own hero in the pipes? He at least saves the League having to look elsewhere and risk being denied yet again.
The whole issue leaves a sour taste in your mouth; fans unhappy with certain decisions and processes, players and/or teams unhappy with and unwilling to participate in the games themselves. Even as the League turns back to the classics for the SuperSkills competition, perhaps this is as concrete a sign as any that even more difficult decisions and changes might well be needed for the days-long event.
Without a doubt, the All-Star game should be an undeniable success in Montreal, with attendance and excitement as high as anyone can last remember. It’s what cities may come next, whether they can lure hometown heroes and 29 other teams to the event, that should be of real concern to the League in this matter. But, at least for the next few days, hope can remain strong that no other serious issues will arise to take away from the event.
Updated - 5:30PM EST (with my thoughts on some of the comments and discussion)
I think that the first real challenge is that this is in the middle of the season. Every team has something on the line. Detroit might not be avoiding the event for Stanley Cup reasons, but instead it could be that, were Hossa, Zetterberg, and Franzen asked to take part, they may all have turned it down for fear of losing their stride due to injury or just the event, and as the economy worsens, and all three know that only two will likely be wearing red come July 1st, they may well also be staying away to preserve their season and their shot at what will likely be each of their last big contracts.
As for the game, the fact that there is nothing on the line is critical; the fact that nothing matters, does in fact matter. Playing a regular season, you work towards a Cup, a contract, and a career. One game in a different setting can be exciting, but there needs to be motivation. The Worlds and the Olympics have their motivations, but the All-Star Game has far fewer, less powerful motivators.
Perhaps that should change.
Perhaps, instead of having fans vote for the starting lineup, which makes little difference (see Ovechkin, along with many other players, all not starters, but all shoe-ins since long before the reserves were announced). Perhaps a way could be found to direct fans to vote their players, as in Montreal fans vote for the Montreal player, since every team has to be represented under current rules, and so on for all 30 teams. The remaining six representatives for each team — ideally the same three forwards, two defensemen, one goalie composition of the starting lineup vote — could be put forward as a League-wide ballot. Considering the League figured out how to limit each person to a single vote from their cellphone for this All-Star Game’s Breakaway Challenge, I think they could figure out how to limit voters both in votes, as well as to the initial team voted for. The League-wide ballot may well play to the less-common superstars. Sure, if Pens fans voted Crosby in, Malkin would be sure to follow. But there are a dozen players beyond the initial 30, giving plenty of opportunity for less numbers based, more character based selections. Maybe that kind of honour, players voted in exclusively by their team’s fans as the representative for their city, and players voted in explicitly as the extra six, beyond the numbers selections, maybe that could make it a little harder to not RSVP.
What about the other side? That voting is all well and good, but it’s all about pushing, all stick. It needs some carrot, and this carrot would need some different voting than that I’ve just proposed, hopefully just as motivational though.
If you’ve got it in your head that moving the All-Star Game to a pre-season date, or more extended break, might be a good thing, then you open up new options. The most powerful motivator might be the one that both the AHL and KHL have adopted (and, perhaps wanting to be leaders, that the NHL has not played follower on). The KHL had success with an import vs. Russian format, and the AHL has a Canada vs. PlanetUSA breakdown, both of which allow for some of those rivalries from the Olympics, the rivalries bigger than any city, to emerge.
You want a global game? Make it more globally relevant. There are more than enough stars to make it a North America vs. the World event. Maybe then you find yourself with a bigger non-North-American viewing market.
The biggest carrot that springs to mind as a good offering?
The All-Star Game itself.
You want a global game, give it real global implication. Montreal will be a fan-destination this weekend, but is there any doubt after the European debuts that cities on the other side of the World could offer up crowds just as large, and perhaps more NHL-starved? Give the North America vs. the World ASG winner a trophy — small enough that it isn’t challenging the Stanley Cup for authority or grandeur — but more importantly, determine the next city to host the event based on the outcome. Draw up a list of potential cities, something I’m sure the League would have no trouble with, and announce the top North American and World cities mid-July, as the free agent buzz is dropping. Give a month or two for voting, and then have the All-Star Game be the precursor to the season. Whichever side wins the ASG gets not only the trophy, but more importantly the excitement of knowing that they brought the League’s best players to their part of the world, be it Vegas or Moscow (arrangements pending).
If you want the All-Star Game to matter, give it more weighting. If you don’t want players skipping over it, don’t put it in their way. If you want real excitement, give players and fans something to really get excited about. Even though the League may never expand to Europe, may never expand more in North America, there remain many ways in which the game can still be expanded and can still generate real excitement.
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Native of Northern California. Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.
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