The rules for how the voting and team assignments will work have changed significantly, so let me sum them up for you:
The first step will be selection of team captains. This will be done through a combination of various factors, but primarily through 1) A careful auditing of Colin Campbell’s email logs, and 2) An informal poll of the ice crews/cheerleading squads of all teams fielding such squads. While the league office will abide by the results of that process, they have issued a set of “suggested guidelines” which merely “recommend… strong consideration of ANY active Washington Capitals player(s) who have led the league in scoring… and anyone currently serving as team captain of a franchise based in Pennsylvania that has won the Stanley Cup in the past quarter century.”
Next will come the more complex process of team selection. While there will be some fan input through a balloting process, league officials are reportedly confident that they have contained the potential impact of such a wild card factor. The real action, then, will take place after public voting has concluded, in the filling of the remaining roster slots. The crucial step in this process will be the all-important Availability Phone Calls, where the captains try to determine who will suddenly be unable to participate because of nagging injuries that have failed to keep them out of their regular team’s lineup. Negotiations are ongoing with the Versus Network as to whether these calls will be carried live. The sticking point in network negotiations is the debate over whether to include the Threat/Counter-Threat portion of the calls live or in a judiciously edited form.
The bulk of the captains’ remaining time will be taken up by the Trying to Get My Team to Give a Crap phase of the process, which includes the Acting Like I Give a Crap Myself scenario.
All of the preceding is my way of saying that the NHL All-Star Game was never the most compelling event to begin with, yet they’ve found a way to make it even less interesting than it was before. All-Star games for contact sports always have this problem where the kind of bone-crunching contact that is central to the game’s identity is specifically omitted from the all-star game. The very worst is the unwatchable NFL Pro Bowl, but the NHL isn’t far behind. The reasons aren’t too hard to understand – no team wants to see one of its stars risk injury in a meaningless exhibition game, and most of the stars aren’t too keen on risking injury either. As the sport has become the sort of big money enterprise that now defines big-time professional athletics, this avoidance of contact has only become more pronounced. In other words, the all-star game has progressively become less and less like real hockey.
It didn’t used to be that way. For many years, the NHL all-star game pitted the current Stanley Cup holder against the all stars of the other teams. History tells us that many of those contests were spirited affairs. But that model had gone away before I became a fan, and for some good reasons, there appears to be no way we could go back to that approach.
So am I only here to complain or do I actually have some constructive suggestions? Well, I can’t completely fix this – there are ways in which the NHL all-star game will continue to suck regardless of any quirky new rules we may apply. I believe, perhaps cynically, that the league honchos feel that way too. I think their sights are set far lower – that all they’re hoping to do is attract some attention (i.e., ratings) in the short term by throwing around gimmicks – particularly this season, where they find themselves on the brink of major new TV network deals (i.e., lots of money). In the case of the all-star game, they are relieved from excessive public debate on preserving the sanctity of the sport, since the all-star game has been a weak imitation of real hockey for a long time already.
Some have suggested that the NHL adopt the Major League Baseball approach of having the all-star game’s outcome affect home ice in the finals. This is such an obviously flawed concept that not even the NHL’s commissioner will ever take it seriously. As intimated earlier, baseball is far less of a contact sport, enabling its all-star game to be somewhat closer to an actual competition than an NHL all-star game can be.
So then… what is my plan for making things better? Listen closely: I have no plan. That is, my first suggestion is this: Cancel the damn game. Let the media (or whoever cares to) make their all-pro selections and stop thinking you can actually put on a meaningful exhibition of those talents other than some of them meeting in the playoffs. Since there’s no indication that will ever happen, this suggestion of mine doesn’t really count; it’s nothing more than a little fantasy. So we move to my alternate suggestion: Do whatever you want with the all-star game. I love watching hockey games at all levels, yet I rarely watch the all-star game because to my way of thinking, IT ISN’T A REAL GAME! So once again, my suggestion places me outside of any debate on the matter. Let those who either A) Love the all-star game, or B) Persist in the belief that it can be saved, fight it out. I’ll be over here, channel-surfing, looking for real hockey games to enjoy.