NHL All-Star Game: How to improve the league's marquee event
A sibling rivalry and bringing back the fantasy draft could be a start to revamp the NHL All-Star format.
When people complain, “Why isn’t (thing I remember loving as a child) any good anymore?,” they’re usually viewing the older version of something through the fuzzy, rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Yet, every now and then, we come to realize that the older version was better. These cranky folks are generally correct when it comes to the NHL All-Star Game, and All-Star activities in just about any other sport for that matter.
Broadly speaking, it’s not always the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, or any league’s fault. Instead, it’s the nature of the beast — a beast called technology.
In those dusty, black-and-white olden days, fans of a sport simply didn’t gain the same access to stars from every team that we do in 2023. Beyond a loss of novelty, there also is likely less motivation from All-Stars to truly strut their stuff. Decades ago, pro athletes may have only enjoyed a few chances to show off on a national stage. The difference between some lucrative national endorsements and settling for local furniture store ads could very well boil down to a favourable impression in an All-Star Game.
Now, All-Star festivities are mostly a hassle for players — something to disrupt a coveted vacation, and maybe a situation where they risk embarrassment or injury.
Look, this piece isn’t going to wave a magic wand and make the NHL All-Star Game better than it was during its irreplicable peak years. Instead, the goal is to manufacture more All-Star Game moments that people … you know, might actually remember? Maybe get a laugh from, or want to watch? Bold goals, indeed, but let’s try.
Tkachuk vs. Tkachuk
Let’s take a page from the NFL Pro Bowl’s Manning brother gimmick, but raise the volume and the temperature.
For one thing, Brady Tkachuk versus Matthew Tkachuk would feature two active players (luckily, both are also credible NHL All-Stars). Considering how young the two Tkachuk brothers are (Matthew 25, Brady 23), you could even try to nudge the two into a series rematches down the line.
Of course, the Tkachuk brothers aren’t just active players. They’re also some of the most eccentric characters in the game.
Remember how much fun Brady Tkachuk had while both cheering and jeering Matthew during the Flames’ playoff run?
Now imagine the smack talking and shenanigans if each brother captained a side in a future NHL All-Star Game. Bonus points if we can get them to wear special jerseys on par with the “Rat King” t-shirt.
Brady Tkachuk is a legend. pic.twitter.com/WeML8A4MoM
— Bonk's Mullet (@BonksMullet) April 18, 2019
Considering how entertaining the extended Tkachuk clan was at those Calgary playoff games, let’s extend the All-Star enhancement idea beyond Brady and Matthew. Imagine a skills competition where dad and NHL legend Keith Tkachuk gets to vote for the winner. Gold.
Bring back the fantasy draft
Even as someone who’s covered NHL All-Star Games for more than a decade, I can only rattle off so many memories from events where the goals and the skill events tend to blur together.
Who can forget when players themselves picked their teams in a “fantasy draft” format? OK, the players themselves may only have foggy memories of that night, if you believe that they enjoyed an adult beverage... or 11. But still.
Alex Ovechkin’s drive to get picked last (thus winning a car for someone in need) stole the show, but there were plenty of great moments.
It turns out, those moments were too great for the stuffy NHL to handle. Maybe a Tkachuk versus Tkachuk fantasy draft could revive the idea one more time, though?
Hold it in the preseason
Circle back to novelty for a moment, and ask yourself: when would you be most interested in watching an NHL All-Star Game? Would you rather trudge through it in the dog days of the hockey winter, or when you’ve been deprived of NHL hockey for months?
Think about how many different tweets you’ve seen themed around a player’s number and “x days until hockey.”
Brr, Edmonton chills outdoors can only mean that the season is near. 28 days ‘til we move indoors! #IsItOctoberYet? pic.twitter.com/Kgvwj5E6Vt
— NHL (@NHL) September 10, 2014
If you held NHL All-Star Games during the preseason, you’d capitalize on absence making the heart grow fonder for exhibition hockey. Such an idea could open the door for some fun format tweaks, too. Ponder occasionally running with the defending Stanley Cup champions vs. NHL All-Stars. In such a scenario, it could be one last chance for, say, the 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche to play together before Nazem Kadri and others part ways.
My guess is you’d reduce at least some of the headaches around injuries. Sure, there’d be players recovering from the playoffs (or lying about their recovery times to avoid the ASG), but I’d wager it would be an improvement.
Dust off a legend like Jaromir Jagr
Back in 1980, a 51-year-old Gordie Howe participated in his final NHL All-Star Game. Sticklers might grumble about Jaromir Jagr no longer being an NHL All-Star (truly crusty folks might even blurt out that he's no longer an All-Star, period), but it would be a big treat to see Jagr one more time.
Really, extend this idea if you want. If there are legends who are still comfortable playing, invite them — even just for a few shifts or skills events, especially if there’s a local tie-in (as Roberto Luongo will do in Florida). Personally, I’d be fascinated to see how hard a 59-year-old Al MacInnis can shoot, and so on.
Line up Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Wayne Gretzky vs. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Mario Lemieux if you really want to cook with fire.
At least pull off the obvious stuff
Yes, some of these All-Star adjustments qualify as dreaming too big. If nothing else, it would be nice if the NHL worked harder to check the easier boxes, such as actually inviting All-Stars who deserve to be there.
Being less rigid with the rules could be a start. It’s a noble goal to have one player from every team, but maybe you need to allow for either larger rosters, or uneven ones. Even in an age of seemingly endless bad-faith trolling, it’s unlikely anyone would care about the sanctity of the NHL All-Star Game.
There you have it: some ideas to spice up the NHL All-Star Game. How would you boldly attempt to upgrade a dull event to “slightly more interesting than doom-scrolling?”
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