The NHL All-Star Game cannot find its groove


The National Hockey League’s All-Star Game took place this past weekend. Now, as the dust is settling and players are returning home, we can take a look at what this event demonstrated about the league and its players.

In perhaps a world record, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin was the only player originally nominated to the roster to back out. Citing a lower-body injury, Malkin missed the Penguins’ last game against the Boston Bruins and spent All-Star weekend at home in Pittsburgh. His replacement, the diminutive but speedy Cam Atkinson of the Columbus Blue Jackets, more than deserved to be there, though.

Atkinson and John Tavares were a dream team for the Metropolitan Division, as the two teamed up for four goals during their two games. Each of them scored another goal on their own, as their speed and determination to stay on the puck made the difference for the team that ultimately won.

Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers took home the MVP award and a new truck, but he had significant competition for the prize. Really, the only team that didn’t impress was the Central Division – which, as I am about to elaborate on – is a dream come true.

Listen. I love P.K. Subban. He is an incredibly talented player and a charismatic, generous guy off the ice. I’m thrilled that fans voted him as the captain of the Central Division. It’s not his fault, however, that his team was half made up of sub-par players who made the lineup less due to their own merits and more thanks to the logo they wear.

I’m very open in my dislike towards the Chicago Blackhawks, but even fans would be hard-pressed to admit that they deserved four players to make the All-Star roster, especially this season. The team hasn’t been terrible, but it’s by no means a roster that should put forth such a long list of nominees.

Jonathan Toews is not an all-star. If he ever was in the past, he should certainly not be this season. Duncan Keith is not an all-star. Corey Crawford is not an all-star. Patrick Kane is, arguably, someone who should be in prison and not in the All-Star Game. And yet…

They were all there.

In my experience, most NHL fans are ambivalent toward players who are not on their team, or their bitter rivals. That’s not groundbreaking. You hate players if they throw a dirty hit against your favorite player; you start to like guys who help your country win in international competition. But every NHL fan outside of Chicago hates the Blackhawks. So clearly, the selection of these players was not to cater to the majority of hockey fans.

But the Blackhawks are a “dynasty” and the (racist) logo on the front of their sweaters brings in millions of dollars, hence these players’ admission to the game. And that’s why they made the list above equally or more talented Central Division players, including Robby Fabbri, Mikael Granlund, Pekka Rinne, and more.

Admittedly, I have a few more problems with the All-Star Game than the Central roster alone. The John Scott incident last season, led the league’s front office to move away from the fan vote, and that’s what got us into this situation in the first place. By trying to stop the fans from calling their bluff, the administration has become even more of a joke.

Also, can we talk about the decision to eliminate the breakaway challenge? In a league bereft of vibrant personalities, this shootout-type challenge allowed individual players to show their wild side and really entertain their fellow all-stars and fans.

This year, we got to watch players do… something. Frankly, it was so boring I already forgot what the replacement challenge was and had to go Google it for a refresher. The “four-line challenge” had players try to shoot into small, open corners of the net from various parts of the ice to score points.

The concept sounds fun enough. The execution was surprisingly difficult for the most talented players in the world. It’s not very exciting to watch player after player missing the net or hit the dummy blocker inside it.

Yes, it was very cool to see Mike Smith make a five-hole shot from 200 feet away on the opposite goal line. Yes, it was one of the best parts of the whole night. No, it did not make up for the rest of the challenge.

So what can we take away from this year’s ASG? Well, not much out of the ordinary. The league will do anything for the Blackhawks and is somewhat disconnected from the majority of its fan base. Players will bring their cute kids and the crowd will go wild (see: Ryker Kesler scoring on Carey Price). Someone will bail out due to a suspicious last-minute injury. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west.

The All-Star Game is always a good bit of entertainment, as you would expect from any event that pits the world’s best players (and then some) together for a weekend of fun and competition. The NHL is just struggling to find a format that its front office, players, and fans will all enjoy.

It’s unlikely that these three groups will ever see eye-to-eye on anything. Until then, let’s just agree to bring back the fan vote. Long live John Scott.

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