by SENShobo on 01/06/09 at 01:27 PM ET
Nineteen days to go until the All-Star Game. Nine years (eight seasons) since the game was last held in Canada (Toronto).
Looking forward to the event, telling some friends, perhaps the most shocking (and common) question I received was a variant of the following:
“What’s the All-Star Game?”
Shocking, not because you might suspect that being in Canada near Toronto should erase all questions about the game, from the obvious to the obscure, but because I’m not really sure how clearly you can answer that.
The game, and event, is meant to showcase the talents of the League, of course, through not only the culminating All-Star Game, but through the SuperSkills competition and the excitement surrounding the YoungStars. It is also a time to showcase hockey to fans in various ways, from youth tournaments and events, to Willie O’Ree being honoured and recognized at last year’s event in Atlanta for breaking the colour barrier in the League. Of course, the event also means absolutely nothing in the standings, and serves as a mid-season break for much of the League.
But what makes an All-Star player? Having announced the 2009 NHL All-Star Game Starting Lineup, already there have been complaints over the selection, grumblings over things such as Ovechkin’s omission. No knock on Kovalev’s skills, but there’s no comparison between the two.
What, then, is the point of fan balloting? Is it a quiz, asking the League’s followers whether or not they can figure out who the top scorers are? If that was the case, the East would be one off, Malkin, Ovechkin, and Crosby being 1-2-3 in points in the League. In the West, they would likely fail it altogether, both Thornton and Iginla being passed over to choose Getzlaf, passing over another trio of Western players before choosing Kane, and dropping all the way to 70th to select Toews.
No offense to any of these players, but you’ll have to wonder what the League defines as the ‘right’ choices when it is all made official tomorrow and Thursday. Of the 18 remaining forwards, don’t be surprised to find the vast majority among the League’s top scorers. I wouldn’t be surprised if all but a couple scored more than Kovalev, I will be shocked if any score less than Komisarek, and there’s absolutely zero chance that Price or Giguere will be the best netminder on their team, at least according to the stats; far likelier that they will be the ‘worst’.
None of that is a knock on any of the starters, but on the process. The League encourages fans to vote, get involved, and yet after the starters are chosen, each year they will show us again that scorers are the right answer with their choices, with a pinch of variety shown in, if only to turn on a few more television sets in struggling markets.
Considering they have already chosen what should be acknowledged as the better formula for points, it should not come as a surprise that they may have found the better All-Star Game to put on in the KHL: Russians vs. Import players, played outside for a double-whammy.
Hockey fans would have to have been under a rock to not notice the excitement of the World Juniors, the classic matches set as Canada took on both the Americans and the Russians. East vs. West might well be the least exciting format for the event: North Americans or Canadians vs. Everyone else could well drive ratings far higher than normal, or allowing the Stanley Cup Champions of the previous season to take on the best of the League, even reuniting the Champs for that one game. At the very least, keep the scorers-above-all-else mantra as it stands, but change it so that fans are voting in the last six players, the ones who might not lead the League in scoring, but who nonetheless rightfully deserve to be seen as a ‘star’ in the game, leaving the ‘gimmes’ to someone else.
Instead, the headlines you see for the All-Star Game started off with the Montreal voting program fiasco, the League unable to come to terms with the reality that they enjoy allowing fans to vote a thousand times a day, even as such behaviour alienates the vast majority of fans (note that of twelve starters, only four teams are represented).
Then they highlighted the tightening race in the East, Gonchar and Whitney of the Penguins closing in on the two available slots, even as the League had already passed the point weeks ago at which neither player could reach the 20 game minimum required to play in the All-Star Game (they were not alone on the ballot in this respect either).
Sure, real-world electoral ballots printed weeks in advance make it hard to remove the names of withdrawn candidates, but the NHL promoting two effectively long-since dead candidates who could have been removed at any time from the digital ballot? Worthy of a head shake indeed, even as they could have kept the totals visible after removal, as a tribute to the draw of the ineligible candidates.
There’s a host of other small details that could be ironed out to improve the event — better timekeeping for the speed SuperSkills events (assuming they remain), forbidding goaltenders from ruining the Breakaway Challenge with poke checks (4 minutes in, not that the players seemed fully able to embrace the goal of the challenge either) — but contrary to the “who cares?” attitude of many, there remains hope that it can be a very enjoyable event.
Anyone who’s ever played in a fantasy league, ever read (or crafted) trade rumours, or tuned in to a game not featuring their team of choice knows the draw of real star power. Never knowing whether you will see a guns blazing line hop over the boards, or a crafty trio of forwards, that’s all part of the fun and excitement, the line and pairing dice (hopefully) being rolled not just before the game, but for in-game excitement too.
The League is intent on increasing scoring, on preventing skilled players from being obstructed and held back; the All-Star Game is a no-brainer here.
It won’t ever affect the standings as a regulation match would. It will never carry the weight, passion, and significance of a playoff game.
We need to be reminded of the promise held in the event, and players need to have a chance to deliver: the All-Star Game can always bring you surprises, and some truly exciting things you’ve never seen before.
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