At the risk of sounding like a braggart Â– and, considering what I’m earning for it, trust me, I’m not Â– I do a fair amount of radio and TV shows. And lately in the world of pro sports debate, there’s been an amazing phenomenon taking place: when it comes to one subject, and one subject only, everyone Â– every person, every caller, every panelist, on every part of the continent Â– is in complete agreement with each other.
The subject is the NHL All-Star Game. And everybody concurs that, at least in its present format, the subject stinks.
They get no quarrel from me. Devoid of any semblance of competitive spirit, physical facet or meaningful bounty, hockey’s Â“Mid-winter ClassicÂ” (try to hold your laughter Â‘till the end of the sentence) is now as anticipated as invasive exploratory surgery.
It can still be salvaged, though. And I think there are two means to that end.
The first is by bringing the game to Europe each year, and reverting back to the North America vs. The World approach. (Alternatively, you could have a Â“WorldÂ” team face off against a group of players from the host country.) Under such as system, the Europeans would be much more inclined to put on a good show, and the North Americans would be forced to keep up or be embarrassed.
That’s the key here. Motivating two teams of highly paid, self-involved superstars in a game with no inherent value is difficult enough. However, if you motivate just one team, the other side will almost always have to match the pace. That would almost certainly be the case with international bragging rights at stake.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking a league that moans and groans about promoting its elite players on the Olympic stage every four years is going to look at a proposal that requires a five-day shutdown every season and fire the person who proposed it. And you’re probably right. But that doesn’t make it a bad idea.
The other way to render the All-Star Game relevant again was first broached during one of The Hockey News’ daily editorial meetings a couple weeks ago. Someone (yes, I forget who) suggested the league create one team of players aged 30 or older; of course, they would take on a team of 29-or-underÂ…um, year-olds.
As with the first proposal, pride and prestige would be the chief rewards in this type of setup. But this time, the bragging rights would be age-based, rather than nation-based. You just know the old coots wouldn’t want the young pups to beat them, and you just know the Sidney Crosbys and Eric Staals and Alex Ovechkins of the league would enjoy the hell out of emerging victorious over the Jagrs and Shanahans and Selannes.
Come to think of it, there is one more manner by which to resuscitate the game. But it’s a lot more crass, and carries with it a fair amount of injury-related risk.
There are three components to it: First, you need to find a title sponsor willing to throw around a serious amount of money Â– a couple million bucks at least. Next, shorten the rosters to the absolute minimum Â– say, 17 or 18 players at most. Then, inform the players that the winner takes the entire, sizeable pot.
I bet you’d see some bona fide physical play then. I bet you’d see NHLers at their best then. I bet that, though the Stanley Cup is obviously their ultimate goal, players Â– especially the young upstarts not pulling in the mega-millions Â– would find it within themselves to put forth a respectable effort if each of them knew a six-figure payday was up for grabs.
Now, I’d fully expect all 30 NHL general managers to dissuade their best players from taking part in any game that involved actual emotion or sweat. But that’s why they pay Gary Bettman the big bucks Â– to strong-arm (try to hold your laughter Â‘till the end of the sentence) owners and management into a situation that best befits the league.
Right now, the commissioner couldn’t do any worse than the schmozzle slated for Dallas.
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