With the NHL season nearing its midpoint, where better to celebrate than heading to Vegas for the annual All Star game. What’s become a sort of perfunctory affair has been improved with the introduction of 3 on 3, but, especially this season with its erratic, Covid ravaged schedule, it’s lacking a certain fanfare. Or at least that was the case until recent comments from Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon who floated the idea, not that players avoid the world famous buffets, but that there need not be a representative for every team, as it’s not a participation game (it is…) which, in a certain light, is reasonable.
It’s an honour to go and deserving player should be given that opportunity based on merit. However, that directly contravenes the spirit and purpose of the game itself. This event is a glorified league showcase, meant to celebrate the game and give fans the opportunity to see their favourite players in a more relaxed setting, or at least, the ones who want to go…which is a separate issue all together.
In fact the game started as a fundraiser for Ace Bailey in 1934 after he was injured in a game on a hit by Eddie Shore and had to retire. It was between the Leafs and other All Stars from around the league. This format continued for years, pitting the reigning Stanley Cup champion against an ‘All Star’ team. These days, if we’re being honest, it’s about making money for the league itself, as it’s one of their marquee events, and alienating teams (or fan-bases) doesn’t exactly help the cause.
They want the fans and sponsors to come out, have a good time, and most importantly, see their favourite team represented. Is this in large part a business decision? Of course. We can tip toe around it all we want, but the NHL is an industry, and as such needs to make business type decisions, which means all entities affiliated with said business need to have some manner of inclusion. It’d be tantamount to throwing an office Christmas party and leaving one department off the list. (No hard feelings HR…)
Moreover, it gives players who are having a great (often a career) season and may not have another opportunity a shot. Recently Anthony Duclair, David Perron, Milan Michalek, Scott Hartnell, and Zemgus Girgensons come to mind. Also, what gets lost in this is that it’s a showcase for the entire league. The best of the best are there, or find some half-assed excuse not to be, so yes, on occasion some worthy players may be left out as a result of this stipulation, but by and large the cream of the crop are there, and more importantly it doesn’t mean the players who are selected from mediocre teams aren’t equally worthy.
Suggesting that it’s somehow an affront to the game to have them there is asinine. Nor should a fan base have to be singled out as unworthy, especially if the league wants to grow the game in less traditional markets. This isn’t a case where you’re punishing certain players in favour of others. It’s ensuring that the league in its entirety is being represented.
There’s also the ‘Last Man In’ fan vote, which often rectifies this problems, as four additional players are selected by fans. This year MacKinnon’s Avs teammate Nazem Kadri (who is certainly deserving) is among them, which will give us the chance to see if he can check All Star Game off his suspension Bingo card. Ultimately, this format is not perfect, but we need to look at the game for what it its: A break from the rigours of the regular season, a chance for the host city to show off what it has to offer, and kids to think about potential match ups and seeing players showcase their skills in a fun, relaxed atmosphere in order to celebrate them. To take it any more seriously is to miss the point.
I have a few thoughts on the NHL’s All Star Game. Firstly, it shouldn’t go ahead. At time of writing (Tuesday morning) 25 NHL games have had to be postponed in January alone, and we’re not yet two third through the month yet. Getting representatives from every team in the league together in one place, along with all the officiating staff and suits, feels like a very bad idea.
There’s no doubt that cancelling the event will cost money, but for the sake of the the rest of the season, let’s not have the 22 Vegas event be the super-spreader event that ruined hockey for us. That’s the ‘con’ side of my argument for taking a player from each time.
The ‘pro’ argument is that each team is represented, despite what some think, the ASG is absolutely a participation event and should be treated as such. Each team gets a chance to show off their best and brightest talent and generate some revenue from additional exposure. Something that’s sorely needed after teams lost money. I also believe there should be guaranteed All Star Alumni, players like Crosby and Marchand who don’t need voting in, they just automatically get to go. They’re the superstars that people will always pay to watch.