By: Andy Palm, Columnist
Since the new year began, the 2020 NHL All-Star rosters have been announced. Every division will be proudly represented with their superstars for the now 3 vs. 3 tournament that is the NHL All-Star game. The St. Louis Blues have a league three all-stars, and the Washington Capitals have two players so far. The Blues, who are the host team this year, will be sending out goalie Jordan Binnington, forward Ryan O’Reilly, and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
The Capitals were supposed to be represented by goalie Braden Holtby, defenseman John Carlson, and team captain Alex Ovechkin; however, for the second year in a row, Ovechkin has decided to sit out the glorified exhibition game in the name of rest. The Russian winger will be penalized for this with a one game suspension.
NHL All-Star weekend is a good time for both the players and the fans, and for the league, it is a very profitable few days as well. The brand is strongly represented, and through various different events, the players are able to showcase their incredible skill sets. The skills competition, usually held the night before the actual All-Star game itself, is very entertaining and creates a lot of buzz through social media and different entertainment platforms.
The fastest skater competition, the hardest shot, the breakaway challenge, accuracy shooting, the skills challenge relay: just a few of the many entertaining events the night has to offer. The question that has plagued me for a few years now, and became even more prevalent when Alex Ovechkin decided to sit out last year to rest his body — why even bother playing the actual game?
The NHL All-Star game has been the center of mockery for many years now, no different than other major sports and their All-Star games. The actual product is a borderline joke. For a game that displays the league’s best talent, it really doesn’t say much. The players have a good time, but they clearly don’t take it very seriously. Players do not want to get hurt in a meaningless game, so most barely try and rarely skate at full speed.
I have to give the NHL credit, they saw the problem themselves and modified the format by changing it from the traditional Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference. In 2016 they divided teams by division and began a 3-on-3 round robin tournament. Without a doubt, this change helped the game tremendously. Before this change players barely moved on the ice, it looked like high school floor hockey, actually worse.
At least in high school you had those few kids who lived for gym class and gave 100%. Now, there is a slight increase in effort shown, goalies actually get down in position now instead of just standing in the crease like they’re waiting for their mom to leave a store. Even with the change, it is clear these players don’t want to play in this game. There has to be a way to honor the league’s best without having the game.
It is still an honor to be selected to the All-Star Game, and the players who are nominated are still excited to be asked to go. In my opinion, Ovechkin could start a trend, especially for players in their 30s and beyond. Hockey is maybe the most physically grueling professional sports season the world has to offer. It is just as long as basketball season, but with the same amount of physicality as a football season; these guys need a break at some point.
My proposition is simple: no game, just the skills competition. By doing this you still have an All-Star weekend, you’re still able to honor the league’s best players, but you don’t have to trot them out for a meaningless game where they run the risk of getting hurt. There is also the option of adding events to the skills competition, making it more expansive. These events don’t necessarily have to be hockey related but could be more like a game show. Fans want to know these players and gain a personal connection with them. A game show would give them that opportunity.
In conclusion, I’ve just never really found any All-Star game in any sport to be necessary. It always seemed to be a nuisance to the players selected and it seemed unfair that they have to play, while other players got to rest up for the second half of the year. The product of the game is not good, and it needs to be revised; before the league starts seeing more players decide like Ovechkin, that the game is just not worth the risk.