This feature is part of our bi-weekly look at the NHL, which appears every other Sunday on Page 2 of the print edition.
The NHL’s annual All-Star Game is almost upon us. And I’m struggling to get excited.
Not all of the best players will be in Ottawa. Intensity, as usual, will be lacking. The rosters, I find, are tougher than ever to figure out.
The funny thing is, I want to look forward to this game. It’s got potential. It could even become one of the NHL’s crown jewel events. I’m not alone in this; many believe the All-Star game is in desperate need of a few tweaks. Here are the changes I support:
1. The best players have got to be there. Look, I get why the NHL adopted fan voting. And, yes, I also realize that the game is being played in Ottawa and that the local franchise is enjoying a renaissance season. But the electronic ballot-box stuffing for the “first six” makes the entire process tough to take seriously. Four Senators? Really? Milan Michalek is 84th in scoring—84th!
While the NHL has done a better job of ensuring invited players don’t bail at the last minute with mysterious ailments, I was disappointed that Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne opted for rest rather than what might be their last All-Star Game appearance.
Then there’s the case of Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals’ captain thumbed his nose at the NHL after the league suspended him for three games. The league chose not to pursue the matter. Right or wrong, now the game won’t feature Ovechkin or Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who is still battling the effects of a concussion.
2. Move the game outdoors. It’s been suggested that the league move the game outdoors. The Winter Classic is a big deal on the sports calendar, even for folks who don’t watch hockey regularly. Why couldn’t the NHL do it for the All-Star Game, too?
Imagine putting hockey’s biggest stars inside Yankee Stadium. Or Camden Yards? Or, thanks to advances in ice-making technology, Sun Life Stadium in Miami?
3. Or how about Las Vegas? If the NHL doesn’t want to play another game outdoors for fear of detracting from the Winter Classic, at least pick a place with more panache than say, Kanata, Ont., or Raleigh, N.C.
Media members who bailed on a trip to Ottawa (full disclosure: The Post is guilty of pulling the chute after Ovechkin withdrew) would double down for a trip to Sin City. I confirmed this with an informal poll in the Verizon Center press box Tuesday night.
I suspect it might be an incentive for players, too.
4. Make the game worth something. For the past nine seasons, baseball has determined home-field advantage for the World Series based on which league won the All-Star Game.
Of course, the NHL would have to ditch the whole all-star draft process it adopted last season and return to Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference (which is how I preferred it, anyway.)
At the end of the day, sport is about competition. And I’m not sure how many fans care whether Team Chara or Team Alfredsson wins.
5. Make the skills competition easier to follow. I’ve attended and watched enough skills competitions to know that people care about three things: fastest skater, hardest shot and accuracy shooting. That’s it.
Make it about those events and crown the individual champion.
I’ll probably end up watching the game, anyway. But how much more interesting would Sunday afternoon be if hockey’s greatest players were on the ice at Yankee Stadium, and there was actually something at stake?