The NHL All Star Weekend Is Bad, Fix It

One weekend of fun with The Replacements and alcohol.

Most nights my neighbor walks her dog. She’s a night person, all but retired, and just plain happier to exist when the world is quiet. My neighbor comes off as very relaxed when she starts her day at 6pm which is about the time I want to start winding down.

Her dog is short and stocky, bordering on not being a small dog. It can be loud and spastic but it’s rarely aggressive. You think with its owner’s routine the dog just desires to socialize with other beings.

Watching her walk her dog in the quiet night is exactly how I feel watching the All Star Game. It’s predictable, pedestrian, and without any excitement.

This is how I feel watching the All Star Game. But not the Fantasy Draft and Skills Competition. Holy hell they were outstanding this year.

The 2015 edition started off with a meh and ended with a new record for goals. Still wasn’t the highlight of the weekend. Half of the goalies were replaced (!) and Sidney Crosby did not participate in any aspect of the weekend due to a last minute “lower body injury.” Regardless of validity, I doubt Pittsburgh was going to send Crosby to Columbus after losing five key players to injuries. It was a smart move to preserve the rest of the season. Team Toews beat Team Foligno 17-12. Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets was the Game MVP, Marc-Andre Fleury looked like a chump. Team Toews members John Tavares had 4 goals (tying an ASG record) and Jaroslav Halak stopped 6 of 10 shots, fairly good for such an exhibition.

Unlike the only meaningless corporate-shilling exhibition that sorta has a meaning, the NHL All Star Game has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the season or postseason. The mid-year rest is good for some and nerve-wracking for management. I doubt there are player contracts with “Participate in an ASG” bonus clauses. It’s for kids and sponsors. The Winter Classic, Stadium Series, and Heritage Classic (whenever it happens) have become the hyped up spectacles the ASG is supposed to be.

The weekend is huge and, from all reports, a really fun time. The Skills Competition is the backbone of the entire gala. Its a ratings draw that pulls in all levels of fan. The “fantasy draft” format has upped the stakes as the Golden Globes element that had been missing all these years. What is better than seeing hammered professional athletes ribbing their buddies and frenemies and sitting around looking antsy. Stay gold, Phil Kessel.

(Keep the draft. Add a second trade. Keep the drinks flowing. This was easily the greatest non-sporting sporting event in history.)

How can the pitfalls of this event be rectified? Move All Star Weekend to the preseason. And put it in Las Vegas every year.

The idea is not new, or mine, but I like the principle. Open the season with a a huge kickoff event. Stars! Skills! Vegas! Have an off-season vote to select team representatives to send to either a League city or pick a neutral site. Like Las Vaegas. While the idea of a franchise relocating or expanding to Sin City is smoking more than in the past, putting a marquee League event gives the league exposure and safety. Holding a non-regular season event would be less of a target for sports betting and any potential Pete Rose Of Hockey. Corporate sponsors would love a trip to Vegas to generate revenue for their brands. Families may be a tougher sell but that’s what an all-inclusive travel package is for. Works well for Disney.

Hey now. Wouldn’t repeated success of All Star Weekend gain steam for an NHL franchise in the city? Hmmm…..

Keeping rosters safe for the playoff run would be a very attractive proposition for team management. While sending star players to possibly injure themselves for no valid reason doesn’t sit will with GMs, a player participating in any sort of All Star event in September gives injuries time to heal. When Jaroslav Halak was put on IR in December fans freaked out. But wouldn’t it be better for the Islanders if Halak was put on IR sooner than later to give him rest and rehab? December or March…September or March. It’ll save some teams the heartbreak of losing that key player for the stretch run. The Penguins are taking this approach with Sidney Crosby.

Going back to the goalies, the Skills Competition is probably more damaging to a netminder’s body than the Game itself. The Breakaway Challenge, Relay, and the Shootout feature goalies getting turned inside out backwards by the game’s best. My initial position had the game going away to save the goalies’ bodies, but upon further thought the Skills Competition is nothing more than a Medieval torture dungeon. While the game has no defense and cannon fire, the Skills Competition is just as bad. Yet it’s really, really. cool. I fear for Jaro. If you want to break your goalie for the season at least do it in September when he has time to heal.

What about the break the ASG gives to the teams before the last 10 weeks of the season? Well, leave the gap. The NHL has scheduled a 4-5 day gap around the Weekend that does not impact the rest of the season so why not just leave it? There’s your breather before the sprint because it’s already booked.

Anything to make All Star Weekend a willing draw for the stars and franchises, and lessen the dull impact for fans. But keep the players’ booze, for Ovechkin’s sake.

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