Underrated: NHL All-Star Game

by Jeeves

I am a hockey fan; I admit it. Unfortunately, I’m not as big of a hockey fan as I was in the mid-90’s, back in the days with the likes of Chelios, Amonte, Roenick, and Belfour. Part of the reason for that is due to Bill Wirtz trying to kill hockey in Chicago, part of it is due to less leisure time than I had as an elementary school kid, and a large part of that is due to general mismanagement by Gary Bettman. I think one of the few things the NHL and Bettman have gotten right in the intervening years is the NHL All-Star Game. I’m going on the record and saying it’s fairly underrated.

Before we get into it, here’s a brief history of the NHL All-Star Game:

1947-1967: The Stanley Cup champion from the previous season played against All-Stars from the other teams preceding the start of the season, except for the 5th and 6th All-Star games where it was a team of all-stars from the Canadian based teams vs a team of all-stars from the American based teams.

1967: The All-Star Game moved to mid-season

1968: The All-Star Game became an East vs West affair, with the teams not chosen after the end of the preceding system, but at the mid-way point.

1975: Due to realignment into 4 divisions, the All-Star Game now pitted the Wales Conference against the Campbell conference.

1985: Fan balloting was started to determine the starters.

1990: The NHL skills competition was introduced.

1998: North American stars vs World Stars

2003: The game reverted back to East vs West

2011: Two players serving as captains will choose their teams from a pool of all-stars

That brings us to the present and the point of my article. I find this new wrinkle absolutely fascinating. There are so many storylines that will play into and come out of the “draft.” Bunches of questions will be answered, like which Sedin brother will be chosen first? Will the latter chosen brother rise up and play better to prove the captains wrong? Do players think as highly of Jonathan Toews, as I do? Will the captains skew towards players from their own countries? The questions go on and on and on. To be honest I may be actually more interested in the picking than the actual game. There’s also the fact that the picking will allow the public to see the actual pecking order within the NHL. Yes, there are ways to judge players and rank them, but this serves as a, sort of, straight from the horse’s mouth ranking scheme.

While this whole concept is, to be honest, a little weird, it has definitely achieved its purpose; it has increased interest in the game. Perhaps it is just me, but as I grow older, I have become less and less interested in All-Star Games. The appeal and shine have slowly come off of the games and they seem like empty exhibitions. The NHL had the stones to mix things up and inject some life into the proceedings. They have created a novel twist into something that had become increasingly rote, and for this I commend them. Brendan Shanahan deserves major credit for working on the idea and standing behind it.

I’ll also add that the NHL has the best non-ASG event. I completely and thoroughly enjoy the skills competition. The different competitions are so basic that there’s actual bragging rights that come with it. Who wouldn’t enjoy finding out who the faster player in the NBA or NFL is? Well, the NHL tells us this each year (save for Olympic years). Want to know who can hit the hardest shot? Well, the NHL sets up speed guns for that very purpose. It’s pure awesomeness; it would be akin to having MLB pitchers try and throw the fastest pitch. These are the types of questions that fans argue about over beers and think about while writing blog posts. The NHL provides a forum to answer these questions and put the arguments to rest for a year. No other sport offers that same forum (now that the NFL stopped). Yes there are events like the home run derby and the dunk contest, but it doesn’t break things down to their fundamentals the way the NHL SuperSkills competition does.

The actual game itself may end up being just as exciting as past iterations, but that’s not the point. The point is the NHL is providing novel entertainment. They are throwing in tweaks that are far more exciting than in other sports, yet how many of you honestly knew that the ASG is this weekend? Bottom line: the NHL All-Star game is totally unheralded and completely underrated.

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