For a player like Alex Ovechkin, the NHL All-Star Game does not have the same appeal as it might to others. Ovechkin has reached the pinnacle of hockey, winning the 2018 Stanley Cup, entering the top-10 in goals scored in NHL history and scoring 50 goals eight times in his career.
For him, the focus is on the playoffs and making sure his body is in a good place come mid-April. Without him at 100%, it would be a detriment to the Washington Capitals on their quest to hoist another Stanley Cup. These reasons give insight into changes that may have to happen regarding the NHL All-Star Game.
All-Star Weekend has undergone many changes over the years, and the NHL has struggled to find one that sticks. The first official NHL All-Star Game took place in 1947 and pegged the defending Stanley Cup champions against a team of NHL All-Stars, and was used a total of 19 times in NHL history. The game has seen a variety of changes since 1947 with different formats including first-team All-Stars versus second-team All-Stars, the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, North America versus World All-Stars, and the quirky fantasy-style draft which famously resulted in some laughs when Phil Kessel was drafted last.
While it is fun to see the NHL’s biggest stars share the ice, it is getting hard to get excited about a game that is being played at a fifth of the speed of a regular NHL game. So, what can be done to make this more exciting and stop players like Ovechkin from taking the one-game suspension or Dylan Larkin asking fans not to vote him in?
Kendall Coyne Schofield Changing Women’s Hockey
In the past two seasons, the NHL has made a few moves to bring something new to the All-Star Weekend. In 2019, American women’s hockey star Kendall Coyne Schofield appeared to be fired out of a cannon in the fastest skater competition making other NHLers wary of even participating in the event.
Now, in 2020 the NHL will host a 3-on-3 game featuring the top players from the American and Canadian women’s hockey teams and will likely result in the most competitive portion of the 2020 All-Star Weekend.
Potential All-Star Game Changes
In order to add more intensity to the All-Star Weekend, the NHL could follow in the NBA’s footsteps and vote in players specifically for different events. Like the NBA’s Slam-Dunk contest, a shootout specialist like Tyler Ennis of the Ottawa Senators will likely never receive an All-Star nod but could bring some added excitement with his variety of creative shootout moves.
Also, a variety of hockey personalities have made a name for themselves through social media. Bringing in a guy like Pavel Barber, a stickhandling specialist and skills coach from Toronto who has amassed over 500,000 Instagram followers might bring some more fan attention, along with some crafty stickhandling to All-Star Weekend.
Another move the NHL could make is creating an opt-in/out rule for voting NHL veterans, where players over a certain age or number of All-Star appearances can choose whether they would like to receive votes for All-Star game entry. As players get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay healthy and for a player like Ovechkin, who has been voted to the All-Star Game 11 times, the excitement of getting to play that weekend starts to disappear. This system would allow young, fast, talented players to get the opportunity to participate in the NHL All-Star Game and ensure that the game is filled with players who actually want to be there.
As the Capitals sit atop the NHL standings at the All-Star break, anything short of a 2020 Stanley Cup would be a disappointment. In order to reach that goal, they need Ovechkin to be the hard-hitting sniper he usually is. At the end of the day, if he believes that recovery over the All-Star break is more important to his performance this NHL season, why wouldn’t the NHL want arguably the best goal-scorer of all-time at his best?
While there is likely no perfect recipe for a successful All-Star Weekend, it is time for the NHL t start prioritizing the players that give the most to the on-ice product, and worry less about forcing them to participate in NHL All-Star Weekend.