The NHL needed a spark. It was hard to find enough people that still cared about the All-Star game. The effort on the ice was about the same as the way the fans felt about the game in general.
They had altered the format before, going from the traditional East vs West game to North America against the World eventually going back to the original again.
Something still wasn’t right.
So they tried doing a fantasy draft, doing it the old school pond style, pick a couple of captains and let them decide on a team.
Maybe that was a little bit better, at least the first time around. Something still lacked.
It was the game itself.
Hockey at its finest may be the most thrilling, exhilarating sport in existence. The speed, the grace, the raw physicality, it is all there for the taking. When it all comes together, it is a thing of pure beauty.
When it doesn’t? You get the All-Star game.
You can’t really blame the players either. It’s a long and grueling season, and for some participating, it is only about to get far worse on their body. The playoffs are an animal on its own, putting unreal amounts of wear and tear on an already worn out body.
So how do you get not only the fans but the players back into?
Make it worth their while, and make it exciting for even them. Most importantly, give them no choice but to at least put some effort into it.
Admit it, you had fun on Sunday.
Look at the face of the most accomplished player in the history of the game, laughing from the bench. Wayne Gretzky had a blast coaching that.
For all the faults of the NHL as a league, they are onto something with this.
Coming out of the lockout, the league looked for ways to make the game more exciting. At least starting out, they called more penalties. Got rid of the two-line pass, opening things up, and added the shootout to try and put on display the talents of the game’s best.
While the shootout has lost its momentum, don’t expect the league’s latest attempt – 3v3 overtime – to lose steam.
Don’t expect the All-Star game, under this format, to do so, ever.
The forcing the players the feign some effort? Yea try playing 3v3, you don’t have much of a chance. Put $1 million on the line? It doesn’t matter if they are splitting it among the team, try and tell the guys still on entry-level deals that it was nothing. Heck, tell the multi-millionaires that another $80,000-90,000 is nothing.
Most of all, it is fun. Of all the ways there has been in the history of the game to showcase the natural talent of the league’s best, putting as few as them on the ice as possible, creating excess amounts of open space is the absolute best way.
There was space to actually deke around a defender without worrying about another being right in your face. Or two tying up your stick at the same time. There was space so that maybe the fastest player to have ever played the game could actually take off and fly.
Even with all the scoring and focus on the forwards, there was even enough space for the best goalies in the world to flash a save or two, remind everyone they are still there.
It was a fun weekend. Not only did we get to honor the best to have ever played the game, we got to see that rare glimpse of hockey at its most fun.
Really, in the end, isn’t that what these last couple of days are really supposed to be about. Showcasing the talent, and the passion that the best in the league have to offer. Not some mandatory event players have to attend or else face punishment from the league.
Now, what do we got to do to get the next All-Star game in Vegas?