Roundtable: Is the NHL All-Star Game Facing Extinction?

The NHL’s first official all-star game took place during the 1947-48 season as a way of honouring – and showcasing – some of the league’s top players. Like any major sports league, the game has become an annual tradition with the exception of a few years.

Now, while it’s become a fun way to watch the stars of the game show off their offensive skills, there has been some discussion surrounding its relevance over the years. Arguments are made against the games lack of physicality – questioning the significance of the game and the time taken away from the season to fulfill the weekend’s events.

So is it time for the NHL to consider changing the game again? Should they take a page out of Major League Baseball’s book and add playoff implications to the mid-season classic? Or maybe they should follow in the footsteps of the National Football League and have it at the end of the season. In this Tape2Tape roundtable discussion, a group from The Hockey Writers sit down to answer questions about the league’s need for the mid-season break and whether or not it’s time to dispose of the soft-hitting, but entertaining, NHL All-Star Game.

Included in today’s roundtable, are three writers from THW’s team who, along with being hockey savvy, have covered the NHL in their own respect.

  • Kirk Vance (@kirkvance) has covered numerous subjects for THW since 2013. While he does have a broad range of hockey expertise, his major focus has been on the Boston Bruins.
  • Mark Wallace Graham (@MarkWGraham) is a Boston Bruins beat writer for THW. He’s written about the technicalities of Stanley Cup engravings, and a look back at the 1999 NHL Draft.
  • Cam Kerry (@camkerryPRS) covers the Los Angeles beat for THW. He’s the founder of Press Room Sports and has questioned whether or not the NHL is without a true superstar.

    NHL, All-Star Game, All-Star Weekend, THW
    The All-Star Game is a chance for the NHL and its fans to recognize the league’s top players. (Tom Turk / THW)

How is the NHL All-Star Game significant – or is it?

Kirk:  The all-star game is one of the best platforms the NHL has to show some personality. Players are free to be creative and try things that they can’t afford to try in a game with meaning. A number of players get mic’d for the game, and it gives fans a chance to hear the sounds of the game – including commentary as the game is going on. That alone enhances the experience for everyone involved.

The game also gives fans that complain about a lack of scoring across the league the chance to see goals scored in bunches. It is a unique opportunity for the NHL to draw in new fans, by displaying their elite offensive players in an offence-happy environment. While it may not be an accurate representation of the NHL product, it is definitely something that can grab the attention of casual fans.

Mark:  The NHL All-Star, like many other leagues, is not all that important. There really is no incentive for the players to play in this game, aside from the NHL’s rules surrounding the game and unless they have a clause in their contract that gives them a bonus for making the all-star team.

With the NHL season being long and the sport of hockey taking a toll on players bodies, why would anyone actually want to play in this game? I’d take the time off and rest for when it really matters, the NHL season.

Cam:  While many all-star games are deemed a waste of time and a display of top players’ lack of effort, the NHL All-Star Game shows off the sheer talent of the game’s top players. It’s a display of offensive wizardry – a reason for fans to get excited about seeing the best players go head to head. The skills competitions can also be breathtaking with unbelievable shootout goals and blazing snapshots that leave the crowd in awe.

How can the all-star game become more meaningful?

Kirk:  Based on the physical nature of hockey, trying to add meaning to the all-star game would be a bad idea. Major League Baseball has incorporated playoff implications into their all-star game, but if this were to happen in the NHL, the risk of injuries would outweigh the benefit of the improved product.

The 82-game regular season schedule and the two months of playoff hockey provide plenty of physical play, this is a totally different look into the game of hockey, and does not need to force additional meaning.

Mark:  I really can’t think of any way to make the NHL All-Star Game more meaningful. The game is really just for the fans to see superstars show off on the ice – there is zero brag gin rights or incentive to winning the game. The MLB All-Star Game kind of matters because the winner of the game gets home-field advantage in the World Series, but I don’t really like that rule.

I would hope that the NHL wouldn’t stoop to that level to gain more of an audience. The NHL did adopt a fantasy sports style draft when it comes to choosing teams, something the NFL have instituted themselves and it was a little interesting. But like all gimmicks, it’s going to wear off. Long story short, there really is no way to make the NHL All-Star Game meaningful – especially if the players don’t really care themselves.

Cam:  I don’t think that the all-star game can be made meaningful. Players aren’t going to give their all in an event that can damage their health playing with their respective teams. Som sort of bonuses would need to be paid out as well as an extended break for players to gain the necessary rest would and have recovery time would add incentives and add to the desire to win the game.

Would an NHL/KHL All-Star Game be more worthwhile?

Kirk:  An NHL/KHL All-Star Game, while entertaining, would be a disaster. The two leagues play very different styles of hockey. These differences would require adjustments for the all-stars of both leagues – an effort that doesn’t seem to make sense for one exhibition game.

Furthermore, the leagues don’t share a revenue stream, so an injury could have a major impact on one league, while there would be no ramifications for the player, team or league that caused the injury. Interleague exhibition games introduce far more risk than reward and would not be worth the hassle for either league.

Mark:  An NHL versus KHL All-Star Game would be a great start in bringing the NHL All-Star Game back to relevance. Not only would the United States and Canada be invested in this game, but Russia as well. It could be a game the entire globe really could care about.

Seeing arguably the top two tiers in the hockey world duke it out would make for an attractive game and make for great publicity in both the NHL and the KHL. Even the most casual of hockey fans could get into a U.S./Canada and Russia matchup.

Cam:  While an NHL versus KHL game would increase the competitive nature of the game with players competing for pride of their leagues, I feel like it wouldn’t be worthwhile for the NHL to compete in the game. Travel would be a pain and I believe that the NHL would dominate because they boast a higher quality of play.

Russia, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game, NHL, THW, Alexander Ovechkin
Would an NHL vs. KHL All-Star Game push Ovechkin towards playing back home? (Roland Peschetz/Flickr)

A potential problem of the NHL/KHL All-Star Game could be that NHL players depart overseas in order to get more money knowing they would still get a chance to compete against their former NHL counterparts. While I don’t think this would happen with everyone, it could definitely intrigue more players to bolt for the likes of CSKA Moscow and other major teams in Russia.

Is it time to do away with the NHL All-Star Game completely?

Kirk:  The NHL All-Star Game is a tradition that I would hate to see them eliminate. It may not be a highly competitive game, like the playoffs that highlight the best product the NHL has to offer, but it’s nice to see the free-flowing offence in a game where you can tell the players are having a blast.

For me, the skills competition and rookie versus sophomore game are entertaining enough to preserve the All-Star Game, even if I didn’t enjoy the actual game. When the lockout happened in 2004, they lost the major network coverage for the game – ABC and FOX in the decade leading up to the lockout and Versus and NBCSports following the stoppage. The networks always added a lot of interesting features. Since the game was of no consequence, the networks were willing to try out some new technology, including the FoxTrax puck, which gave fans added incentive to tune in.

Mark:  Perhaps it is time to get rid of the All-Star Game. Interest has been waning in all-star games and resorting to gimmicks, like the fantasy draft, may be a sign that it’s time to put the game out to pasture.

Cam:  I don’t believe that now is the time. It still generates interest among fans and serves as a source of pride for players. A fun, relaxed time where the abundance of offence doesn’t hurt the league. Keep it, at least for now.

Certainly, it’s clear that the table is split on significance and necessity of the all-star game. While the compete level is something to be questioned, it does allow fans to see that these players enjoy hockey as much as any average individual.

While the hardcore hockey fan may be disappointed in the lack of physicality, there is no arguing the popularity of the entire weekend – with the skills competition and rookie game drawing large crowds and audiences along with the game itself.

In 2016, Nashville will host the all-star events for the first time in the history of the mid-season showcase. Not only does it bring the hockey world’s focus onto the city of Nashville, but the community also benefits from the event.

“Hosting the 2016 NHL All-Star Game is a huge win for Nashville,” said the city’s Mayor Karl Dean in an interview with NHL.com. “We have hosted big sporting events like this, and we know it benefits our city in many ways, particularly our downtown and hospitality businesses. I look forward to showcasing the enthusiastic base of hockey supporters in our region and all that Music City has to offer.”

On thing is for sure – the game, or rather the tradition, won’t end anytime soon. The best in the game need to be recognized and, for now, the NHL All-Star Game is the best way to do it.

Tape2Tape, Amy MacKenzie, The Hockey Writers, THW, NHL
Tape2Tape – a weekly column – brought to you by The Hockey Writers. (Logo by Amy MacKenzie)

Have some thoughts about this week’s column, let me know at @AndrewGForbes or @Tape2TapeTHW on Twitter.

Tape2Tape is a column looking at some of the biggest stories from around the world of hockey. Agree or disagree, writer Andrew Forbes would love to hear what you have to say.