I’m not a fan of the NHL All-Star Game. It’s not good hockey because there’s nothing on the line. The players don’t take it seriously as they justifiably want to avoid suffering an injury in a nothing game. It’s a waste of time, especially in comparison to the outstanding level of hockey we’ve seen in Olympic tournaments involving NHL stars.
To its credit, the NHL has attempted in recent years to breathe life into their meaningless All-Star Game.
We saw the traditional conference against conference format for decades and a short-lived North America vs the World format. Novelties were introduced over the years to spark fan excitement, like a skills competition, fans voting for their favorite players and a draft format for choosing the respective rosters.
While those novelties succeeded in stirring up pre-game excitement, once the puck drops on the All-Star Game itself it becomes a high-scoring version of pond hockey, with virtually no hitting and only a passing nod to defensive hockey.
Despite the poor quality of competition in the All-Star Game, however, it’s still a decent money-maker for the host city. The game’s TV ratings, however, are usually well below those of actual NHL regular-season games.
Given the NHL’s recent success with outdoor games like the annual Winter Classic and Stadium Series, perhaps the league brain trust should consider holding future all-star games in an outdoor venue. Staging the event in an outdoor stadium won’t improve the quality of the game itself but it would certainly boost the gate revenue and possibly bolster its TV ratings.
The league seems reluctant to consider this option. Perhaps they fear an outdoor All-Star Game won’t be as big a draw as a regular season game. They could consider smaller outdoor stadiums to accommodate an audience larger than those found in NHL arenas without the embarrassing optics of failing to fill a major stadium.
If not an outdoor All-Star Game, then why not replace the game with a two-week international tournament? The league is talking about resurrecting the World Cup of Hockey in the near future. A mid-season World Cup tournament could be more worthwhile than a boring All-Star game. The players will have something to play for, meaning a higher quality of hockey which could prove a box office and ratings winner.
The NHL probably won’t go for either suggestion, but it would be nice if they at least gave them a shot. Either would be an improvement over the snorefest of its current All-Star Game format.