It’s a weekend full of fun, showcasing the best talent in the league, and unique challenges for skilled hockey players…or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. Over the past few years, the NHL All-Star Weekend has changed a lot. What’s one of the things that has changed the most, and not for the better? The way that fans view the events. Let’s take a look at how the NHL’s All-Star Weekend has declined over the past few years, as we ask the burning question: do we really need this event?
When someone thinks of an “all-star game”, they probably don’t think of what the NHL puts on every year. An event like this should be stocked with the best of the best from the NHL, coming together to show off their skills. It seems like that was the intent, but that something, somewhere, went terribly wrong. Let’s take a look back at the 2015 All-Star Weekend, just three years ago. Players were selected by the league to participate in the festivities, but no teams were made. Just two captains, Columbus Blue Jacket Nick Foligno and Chicago Blackhawk Jonathan Toews, were chosen. On the Friday of the weekend, the captains, supported by two “alternates” each, picked their teams in a fantasy style draft. It’s actually a hilarious video that I would totally recommend if you have some time to sit down and watch it. Arguably, the best part of the process is watching Alexander Ovechkin, one of the top players in the league, trying to get picked last so he can win a free car. The next day, the skills competition happened, including competitions for fastest skater, most accurate shot, hardest shot, a shootout, and a relay. The most memorable event, of course, was the “breakaway challenge”, in which select players have to use their creativity to score a unique goal. Among the goals that stood out were Ryan Johansen taking off his Blue Jackets jersey to reveal an Ohio State college jersey (in front of a crowd in Ohio) before shooting in his first attempt, and grabbing a child from the audience to help him out for his second try. He won the hearts of many fans, so many that Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers grabbed then-rookie and Calgary Flame Johnny Gaudreau from the bench and skated around with him as if he was a child as well. On the day of the actual game, a whopping total of 29 goals were scored, with Team Toews taking the win over Team Foligno, 17-12.
The next year, expectations were high after such a fun time last year. But, more weaknesses about the event were continuing to emerge. The “one-player-per-team” rule is among the most mind-boggling things about the weekend, where at least one player from every NHL team is chosen for the activities, whether their team is first or 31st. This is definitely equality for all of the teams, but some fans wonder, how can a team with barely 30 points at All-Star Break have an All-Star “worthy” player? On the other hand, it’s made obvious that some teams that are stacked, with a few squads getting three or four representatives. Butthe All-Star Weekend isn’t fun for all players. After they’ve gone once, many of these athletes see it as a chore to have to go. They are attending an event that means nothing to their team for the rest of the season, on a weekend that they could be spending away from work or with family, and they’re even potentially risking injury. Many “star” players, including Toews and Sidney Crosby, are “coincidentally” diagnosed with illnesses around the time of the All-Star Weekend. Players that “skip” the weekend are sometimes forced to sit for their team’s next game back after the break, but the punishment hasn’t stopped players like Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne in the past. Anyway, it’s time to review the 2016 All-Star festivities.
In 2016, fans decided that they needed to let the NHL know how ridiculous they find the All-Star Weekend. When the league gave them the option to choose a captain for each division, they used the “write-in” option on the league’s website. The general public chose John Scott, a known “goon”, or enforcer, without a lot of traditional skill, as the captain of the Pacific Division. The NHL did everything they could to stop Scott from coming to the game and serving his captaincy, from orchestrating trades, sending him down to the AHL, moving him around the country, and asking if his children would be proud of him. Finally, Scott and his pregnant wife ended up in Nashville for the Skills Competition and All-Star Game, where he wore a neutral jersey with the NHL crest on it. Everything went as it normally did at the Skills Competition, and the only real change to the Game itself was the transition to constant three-on-three play and teams by division. Scott was present for the Skills Competition and scored two goals in the Game to win the “MVP” award from the fans. It was a great, feel-good story, but the poor treatment of the situation by the league only exposed the incompetence of the NHL even further.
By the time the 2017 NHL All-Star Weekend rolled around, fans were getting even sicker of the events. After the “John Scott Incident” the year before, there were more restrictions put on the online fan vote. To worsen the blow, the famous “Breakaway Challenge” was removed from the Skills Competition, and the often complained about three-on-three divisional game was brought back. After the disappointment of last year’s All-Star festivities, what do we think about the weekend this year? The captains look similar to that of past years; P.K. Subban, Steven Stamkos, Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid, each representing their divisions. There’s no sign of the fun draft or creative goal challenges of the past, and there will be no 29 goal games since the three-on-three tournament format is back. This leaves a large part of the NHL fanbase feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. The players hate it, and so many of the fans do as well. So, the question is left…do we really need the NHL All-Star Weekend?
What are your feelings on the NHL All-Star Weekend? Will you be watching when the festivities are held in Tampa Bay, Florida on the weekend of January 26th this year? Would you rather the league just give the players the three days off? Sound off by tweeting us @PuckItUpBlog!
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