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Why This Year’s NHL All Star Game May Actually Be Worth Watching

By: Ashley Mills & Brett Israel

 

The NHL All Star Game, like many all star games, is a dull affair.  Last year’s NHL All Star Game ended with a score of 17-12.  29 total points.  That could be a football score.  In fact, 23 NFL games this year ended with less than 29 total points on the board.  The last NHL All Star game to end with an even remotely recognizable hockey score was in 1996, when the Eastern Conference All Stars beat the West by a score of 5-4 in Boston.  And even that is considered a high-scoring game in hockey. For old school NHL fans, the All-Star game used to be a showcase of highly competitive guys trying to be the best, a la the last quarter of any NBA all star game. Sadly, that’s been missing since the days of the Campbell Conference vs. Whales Conference (1980s), and it’s just not going to be that way again.

So why does the NHL All Star Game suck so bad?

The game takes place in the middle of the season.  It disrupts the momentum of surging teams and gives floundering teams a chance to regroup.  There’s also a distinct lack of intensity, which is so key to a good hockey game, because the game means very little and star players don’t want to jeopardize their season and their team’s playoff chances by getting hurt.  Players chosen as all stars have to play in the game because they, like Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews, will face a one-game suspension if they don’t. For guys like Ovechkin and Toews, they can eat that suspension. With their teams near locks for the playoffs, it’s a better plan for them to just rest their nagging injuries. The  The game’s proceeds benefit the players’ pension fund, but, let’s face it, there’s not much incentive for these guys to get out there and put their best on the ice. The skills competition, which airs Saturday night, like the Home Run Derby in baseball or the Slam Dunk Contest in basketball, tends to be the more entertaining part of the All Star weekend because we get to see the players do all sorts of neat things on the ice that we aren’t coordinated or talented enough to do on solid ground.

The NHL has tried adjusting the All Star Game’s format many times over the years to make it more watchable. Let’s never EVER forget the draft process of the past few years. While a lot of hockey players can’t really be describe as “charismatic” , watching team captains , possibly buzzed, pick their teammates has always been worth a laugh. Think about it, we love a lot of NBA all stars and things like the dunk contest because they’re so charismatic. Seeing these players really show that not only are they human, but fairly funny in moments like trading Phil Kessel for Tyler Seguin just like the actual draft, draws fans to them. While the game itself was boring, everytime I see Drew Doughty, I just remember him asking his fellow captains about their marital status, all caught on mic, on live tv. This year, the league decided to really shake things up by setting up a tournament style series of games, rather than a single game.  The All Stars are divided into teams based on division, then the two divisions in each conference will face each other in a 20 minute, 3-on-3 matchup.  The winner of each game goes on to play in the final, which will again be 3-on-3.  All ties will result in a shootout and there will be no overtime play.  The captains of each division were voted by fans.  More on that in a moment.

I have high hopes for this new set up, especially the 3-on-3 play.  The NHL switched to 3-on-3 in overtime in the regular season, to a lot of praise.  It’s been a lot of fun to watch. Let me tell you, nothing is more stressful as a sports fan than watching 5 minutes of non stop action and rocket shots. Just thinking about it now is making me need to fan myself. I think this format will give the All Stars space to make some truly spectacular moves on the ice, and I’m looking forward to some highlight-worthy goals.  The goaltenders, who usually get the raw end of the All Star deal (see the final score from last year, above), will be especially challenged by this format.  The length of the games, only twenty minutes, should also help keep the pace up.

For the league, the one dud in this entire process has been the All Star Captain voting. For the most part, it went fairly by the book. Ove winning for the Metropolitan, Jaromir “Lazarus” Jager for the Atlantic, and the seeming Hart Trophy winner in Patrick Kane taking honors for the central (which is a sticky situation in itself. After the allegations of Sexual Assault in the off season in one of the most baffling cases ever for a professional athlete, imagine Commissioner Gary Bettman, already one of the most awkward humans, having to give the trophy to Kane. I’m cringing already.) However, we went off script when it came to the Pacific. When having a fan vote, you always run the risk of fans hijacking the process. See last year, when the entire nation of Latvia voted in Zemgus Girgensons. This year, places like NHL Reddit and certain podcasts (i.e. Mareck vs. Wyshynski, which is the best NHL pod out there) campaigned for Arizona Coyote John Scott to be Pacific captain.  Initially, it was a joke. Scott is an enforcer, and definitely not what you think of when playing 3 on 3 with the best of the best. What it most certainly wasn’t was an effort to embarrass Scott. In fact, when we won the vote, it was clear that everyone who voted for him wanted him to succeed.

What followed was a storm of NHL media and dubious practice by the league. With most looking on this situation with disdain, it really divided some media personalities from the fan base. While the frustration in the thought that fans wanted to embarrass Scott is somewhat understandable, even though it wasn’t the case at all, the idea that these people who voted for Scott are not “real fans” is not only insulting, but just flat out wrong. No casual fan would really know who Scott is, let alone vote for him. No, we that voted are the die hards; the ones who study stats like Corsi and Zone possession; who don’t just watch their favorite teams, but have an NHL Game center subscription and really study the game. That itself is frustrating for fans, but the John Scott situation took some weird turns, and as the facts are coming to light; lets just say that some GMs are looking pretty bad, and the NHL nearly alienated their fans.

To really do this story justice, you need to read The Player Tribune piece from Scott himself. I can guarantee you will not be able put that story down and not be a John Scott fan. Here’s the truth: John Scott is an ideal teammate, an ideal father, and an excellent role model. After the NHL lost control of the voting situation, they took it upon themselves to try to bury Scott, first in the AHL with an unexpected trade to Montreal, which was obviously motivated by this All Star situation.  When word of this got out, fan outcry was overwhelming, and, thankfully, the NHL made the right decision and allowed him to play. However, this didn’t happen before Scott received a phone call pleading with him to reconsider playing. Scott was voted fair and square, he has every right to play and to make the decision himself. His teammates were happy for him, fans were happy for him, we wanted to see him. Scott himself said he was reconsidering, being the consummate teammate he is, until he received this call. The official on the other line asked, “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”

Listen, it’s one thing to ask a player to reconsider for the game, but bringing in a players family is crossing a line. Scott said himself, that was the moment he was locked into playing; and good for him. That question is offensive and repugnant. John Scott is the only person (other than maybe his wife) who can make that judgement, or even question it. It’s really shameful for the NHL to take that approach. Even though the NHL is somewhat redeemed in not blocking him; this detail mars that slightly. Here’s the deal NHL officials: I will be watching this game for John Scott. When he scores, which I have faith he will, I will be cheering loudly, as I’m sure his daughters will be. He’s an incredible story. So with this article’s title puts forth the argument on why we should watch this year, I have two words: John Scott.

About ajennimills (40 Articles)
Ashley was raised on sci-fi television shows and movies, the Adam West version of Batman, and all those marvelous 90s Nickelodeon cartoons. She’s a Jersey girl and an avid Philadelphia sports fan, but has never once thrown batteries at a baseball player, or snowballs at Santa Claus. Ashley is also a triathlete, marathon runner, hiker, and occasional dog walker, mostly so she doesn't have to watch what she eats.
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