It’s already been a year since a few bored hockey bloggers decided to make a mockery of both the NHL and tough-guy John Scott, by voting the enforcer into the All-Star Game. The events that followed were all kinds of historic, and laughable, between the attempts to keep Scott out of the game, the uproar from fans, and the heel turn from the league using Scott to their advantage. At the end of the day, Scott had a memorable experience and it was one of the most unforgettable All-Star weekends in history.
No John Scott This Year
After the saga that was last season, you could be sure the league wouldn’t let such a debacle happen again. It certainly took a lot of the drama out of mid-season classic this time around. What started off as an attempt to annoy the league and embarrass a player became a wonderful story. Scott was even named the MVP of the game. He got two goals, so it wasn’t undeserving. But it did bring to light a few questions about this storied All-Star Game.
If a player who plays less than two minutes a night and has five career goals, can be the most valuable player and be the biggest story, what exactly is the point of the All-Star Game? Is it supposed to be an accomplishment for players? Is it supposed to be a showcase for the best players in the league? Or is simply a cash cow and an unnecessary spectacle for the fans to break up the NHL season?
The John Scott situation was unique. It hadn’t happened before, and it won’t happen again. (Scott has since retired from professional hockey after not being offered a contract this season). Last year’s game reminded us of the roots of hockey, where the loveable fighter was one of the most cherished players in the room. And it turned out okay, but what did it do to the credibility of the All-Star Game itself?
Here’s the reality. The game didn’t have that much credibility to begin with.
The Problems with the All-Star Game
One of the biggest issues with the All-Star format (and it’s true in other sports as well), is the need to have each team represented. It’s an understandable rule. The league wants all the fans to be engaged in some way. But it dilutes the product to a certain degree. No offence to Taylor Hall, but if this was based on performance, Columbus’ Cam Atkinson would be the guy on the roster. But we need a New Jersey Devil, and Hall was the best one available.
Because of the format, in which the game is played 3-on-3, there aren’t many spots to be had, so there are always going to be worthy players left off. That said, another huge problem with this game is the league’s tendency to choose guys based on their track record, rather than their actual performance.
Enter Jonathan Toews. Perhaps one of the most overrated players in the NHL, Toews is often lauded for his leadership skills and the intangibles he brings to the table. After all, he’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion. He’s obviously doing something right (his highly skilled teammates might have something to do with it). This season, Toews has been struggling. Whether it be due to injury or simply poor play, he’s not having a banner year by any means.
Jonathan Toews: “I definitely think that Bread Man, Arty and Hoss should be there. I happened to sneak in there somehow. Not sure how.”
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) January 10, 2017
Toews has seven goals, and 21 points on the season. That’s good for sixth on the Blackhawks. He’s not the best player on his team. He’s not even the third best player on his team. Nobody is saying Toews is a bad player. He’s having a down year, it happens to everybody. He can always be counted upon to elevate his game in the playoffs and he probably will. But this is the All-Star Game. It’s supposed to the best of the best, not the guys with good reputations.
— Bar South N Celly™ (@BarSouthNCelly) January 10, 2017
We can’t blame the player because not even Toews himself knows why he was named to the team. He deserves credit for admitting he didn’t deserve to be there. But the Blackhawks are one of the most popular teams in the league (and Toews is one of the most popular players). They sell jerseys. They generate attention. And thus, generate profit. That’s the only explanation for having an NHL-high four Hawks represented at All-Star Weekend.
You could argue that having such an undeserving player is even worse than having Scott in the game, because that was a fan vote, and the league officials wanted Toews in the game. But, we all know what the All-Star Game is about. It’s about making money. It’s not about celebrating greatness.
The All-Star Game is for the Fans
Being an All-Star used to be an honour and a big achievement for the players. But it’s hard to see it that way now. The player’s who were selected still see it as a big deal or at least some of them do. The fact that over the year’s many players opt out of the weekend proves that they don’t take it as seriously as the NHL wants them to. And you can hardly blame them.
An NHL season is a grind, especially for veteran players, and going to the All-Star game is taxing. There is a lot of travel, media availability, and playing the game itself is tiring. But that’s why the end product ends up being extremely dull, with no intensity. That’s what the All-StarGame is. We all know it, we all expect it. The game and the whole weekend is for the fans to enjoy.
And as long as they continue to enjoy it, the league will continue to run it. They change it up every so often to keep things fresh, but hockey fans know it’s all about generating revenue, and less about celebrating the best players in the world. The players will always say the game matters, and they feel it’s important, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.
So don’t worry if your favourite player wasn’t chosen. Be happy that he gets to rest. Don’t see it as a slight towards them or towards your team. There are only so many players who could be chosen, and one from every team, so there will always be perceived snubs. There was a time when the All-Star Game meant everything. But we aren’t there anymore.
As long as everyone understands the reality, it’s okay to acknowledge that the game isn’t all that relevant, and there will always be something that waters down the product to generate attention. The NHL loves the fact that fans argue and complain over the rosters. It gives the game more press than it probably deserves. That’s kind of the point.