On Sunday, the NHL will descend on Nashville for the 61st All-Star Game. Depending on who you ask the game is either an institution, a showcase for the league's best players, or a waste of time that resembles nothing like real hockey.
Over the past 10 years, especially, the game has lost some luster. It has been skipped five times due to either Olympic conflicts or lockouts, and has undergone several format changes.
There's no denying the All-Star Game is at least a little broken. So how do we fix it? Here's how:
MAKE TEAMS OF SIMILAR-STYLE PLAYERS
Sort the all-star squads into gangs based on player types. Think The Warriors. Instead of Central, Pacific, etc., we get the Playmakers, the Snipers, The Speedsters, the Grinders, the Power Forwards, the Enforcers. We get a window into which style beats which. The soft play that characterizes All-Star Games would favor the Playmakers, Snipers and Speedsters, sure, but maybe the Power Forwards or Grinders or Enforcers take exception to an excessive celebration and bite down on their mouth guards a bit. Maybe things get physical. The Enforcers as a team could become sentimental fan favorites, playing for pride, trying to prove they still belong in the NHL. And there would be no John Scott voting fiasco, as he'd be sorted among his proper player types this time. (Matt Larkin)
SCRAP POSITION AND TEAM REQUIREMENTS
When All-Star Game rosters were announced in early January, Blake Wheeler, then seventh in the NHL with 40 points in 40 games, was absent from the Central Division squad.
Jonathan Toews and Matt Duchene, both with fewer points than Wheeler then and now, made the roster ahead of the Jets winger. If it weren’t for the roster needing the best six forwards and three defenseman, Wheeler likely would have been named. Instead, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien got Winnipeg’s only spot on the Central team.
Snubs based on position aren’t the only ones, though. Ask Evgeny Kuznetsov, currently sixth in league scoring, who also won’t be going to the game. Like Wheeler, Kuznetsov could be going if it weren’t for positional requirements, but he’d also be a lock if every team didn’t need to send a representative. Kuznetsov was bumped out of the game in part thanks to Capitals teammates Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but Kuznetsov had every right to earn a nod ahead of the Blue Jackets’ Brandon Saad, Flyers’ Claude Giroux and even the Islanders’ John Tavares.
Sure, that would leave those three clubs without representation at the game, but the point of the All-Star Game is to have the best players that season all in one place. Putting restrictions — either positionally or representation-based — on the exhibition means some of the best in the league are left watching the contest instead of taking part. (Jared Clinton)
PUT BROADCASTERS IN GOAL FOR THE SKILLS COMPETITION
Here's a fun one: For the skills competition, don't use the actual goalies for the shootout/breakaway challenges – use ex-goalies who are now broadcasters. There's a ton to choose from! Glenn Healy, Darren Pang, Daryl Reaugh…the list goes on and on. You can't tell me the players wouldn't love a chance to shoot on these guys, especially if they happen to have said something salty about them in a recent telecast.
I know Carey Price has had some fun in the past, playing backwards and all, but these are brutal events for goalies. Rick DiPietro actually got hurt during the All-Star festivities, don't forget, and I'd rather have a retired guy trying than a current guy not trying. It would make the goals look better, too – none of this Tarasenko-and-Elliott buddy stuff like last year. (Ryan Kennedy)
INCREASE THE PRIZE MONEY
I actually think the league is onto something with this 3-on-3 tournament format. I’m certainly willing to give it a try. I like the idea that there’s prize money involved, too, but if you’re going to provide an incentive, sadly, it’s going to have to be more than $1 million per team. Because the $91,000 to each of the 11 players from the winning team might not even be enough to cover their pet food budget for a year.
So instead of paying $1 million to the winning team, how about paying $1 million to each player on the winning team? Now you’re talking. A cool million dollars might just make the players care about the game enough to, you know, maybe throw a body check, perhaps try and maybe even go to bed early the night before. Sure, it’s a huge expense, but when you’re talking about a $4 billion industry, $11 million isn’t actually that much money. Just have another World Cup of Hockey featuring a team of red haired guys from Saskatchewan. Problem solved. (Ken Campbell)