The National Hockey League held it’s annual all-star festivities over this past weekend in Ottawa with Team Alfredsson winning the skills competition and Team Chara winning the game 12-9. While the fans were able to witness the amazing skills of this year’s stars, Zdeno Chara’s 108.8 miles-per-hour blast in the hardest shot competition anyone, there can’t be any denying that as usual there was something missing from the festivities.

Of course I’m talking about the complete lack of defence, competitiveness and resemblance to an actual NHL game. Although this is to be expected, teams and the players themselves don’t want to see anyone participating get hurt, to market this game as an exhibition of the best of the best the NHL can offer is a sham.

First off, let me point out that I do enjoy the concept of the all-star weekend. The players, for the most part, let their guards down when it comes to the media, and are very candid and open when speaking to the media. I mean when else are hockey fans watching a game at home going to get the opportunity to have players, Scott Hartnell, Joffery Lupel and Daniel Alfredsson, to name a few, mic’d up and speaking with announcers during the game. And although the skills competition can run a bit long, who doesn’t want to see Shea Weber and Chara tee up their booming shots. All-star weekend gives the fans the chance to get up-close and personal with the players, and that is something that the league does great. As well, the all-star game is a fantastic way for the older players, such as Gordie Howe in 1980, playing for Hartford as a 52-year-old, returning to Detroit as an all-star, to have a last memorable moment in their NHL careers.

My problem with the entire weekend lies with the game itself.

The all-star game is glorified shinny and unbearable to watch. I mean at what point do the goaltenders say to themselves, “screw this, let these guys play six-on-six.” The number of times I heard the goal horn on Sunday is enough to make me cringe, whenever I watch a Ottawa Senators home game now. The NHL needs to come up with creative ideas to make the game itself a little more appealing, and frankly, watchable.

Here are a few examples of changes that might spice the game up.

Firstly, play the game for a charitable cause. In the early days of the NHL, a number of benefit and memorial games were played in honour of players. Perhaps the most memorable of these games was the Ace Bailey Benefit Game, played on February 14, 1934, to help raise money for Toronto Maple Leafs player Ace Bailey after he was felled by a vicious check by Boston Bruin defenseman Eddie Shore. Bailey, who was nearly killed by the hit, would never play hockey again, but the game raised $20,909.40 for Bailey and his family.

The NHL could easily do something like this for it’s all-star game. Although this tweak wouldn’t make the game anymore interesting, it would be a feel good story in sports and give the NHL some very good publicity. The NHL, for example, could have given the profits made from ticket sales to the family of Jack Jablonski, a 16-year-old hockey player from Minnesota, who suffered spinal cord injuries, and is now paralyzed, after he was body checked into the boards.

Secondly, the NHL could hold the all-star game outdoors. The Winter Classic has been a very successful endeavour for the league, and the NHL could reward it’s all-stars by giving them the opportunity to play outdoors, just like they used to when they were kids. The problem with this idea is that it eliminates nearly two-thirds of the leagues teams from hosting an all-star game, but it would give the game a new sense of flair.

Thirdly, host the game in a small town. CBC has their annual Kraft Hockeyville, where a town in Canada receives upgrades to their rink and they get to host an NHL preseason game. This would be another chance for the NHL to expand the game into the smaller towns that don’t have the benefit of seeing NHL action live very often. This idea could add hype to the game itself, as a contest could be run to see what town would get to host the game.

Finally, play the game four-on-four. It’s unlikely that the game will ever resemble a regular season NHL game, so why not create more space for these ridiculously talented athletes to do what they do best, and that is wow us with their skills.

 

 

 

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