The official end of the NHL All-Star Game balloting period dovetails nicely with the unofficial start of the “why we need to change the All-Star Game/All-Star Game voting format” season.
Personally, I couldn’t give a flying Fedoruk. The All-Star Game ceased to hold any real attraction for me years ago. I accept it for what it is – a meaningless, zero-intensity game of shinny, albeit one that features many of the most talented hockey players in the world.
That said, I remember what the game used to mean to me as a child. It was a spectacle and it was special and I looked forward to it. Theoretically, that’s what it still could be for today’s youth.
From an NHL marketer’s perspective, it represents another entry point to sell the game to kids, to get them hooked or to deepen their bond. As things stand, it’s an opportunity that isn’t being fully exploited.
In recent years, the hockey community has discussed ad nauseum potential format changes that might re-energize the “classic.” We won’t go down that road again right now (though my personal fave is the Under-30s vs. the 30-and-overs).
Rather, I think the NHL should focus on how the starters are selected because, ironically, the very method they instituted to give ownership to their customers is undermining itself.
The electronic ballot stuffing, or the spectre of it, is a turn-off. While it may not be reflected this year in total number of votes cast, it’s impossible to tell since fans can vote as frequently as they like. So when Sidney Crosby “breaks Jaromir Jagr’s record” for votes received, it’s meaningless. Heck, Rory Fitzpatrick may break Crosby’s record one day.
Here are a few ways they could alter the selection process to lend it more credibility.
1. Have the players vote. Regardless of format (East vs. West, North America vs. Europe, youngsters vs. veterans), players would select their side’s starters, but would not be permitted to cast ballots for their NHL teammates.
2. Devise a statistical formula to pick the starters. Perhaps it’s different for forwards, defensemen and goalies. Maybe each conference’s top goal-scorer, assist-collector, plus-minus player and save percentage stopper are all guaranteed spots. Maybe the formula is more complex. Either way, it’d be black and white.
3. If it remained important to have some fan participation, hold a contest in which two lucky winners got to pick the starters in conjunction with each side’s coaching staffs or executive boards. That would draw visitors into websites (that can’t be the driving reason behind fan balloting, can it?) and eliminate the risk of a non-worthy player being selected.
I’m sure there are scores of other tweaks, amendments or overhauls that could be made to breathe life and credibility back into the event. Let us know what you think.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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