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The NHL: A Refreshing Take on All-Star Games

So, who’s looking forward to the All-Star Game?

Anyone? … Hello? Is this thing on?

Honestly, it doesn’t even matter what sport I’m talking about, here. Because, let’s face it – when we talk about All-Star games in any of the major sports in America, we’re talking about glorified exhibition games; meaningless scrimmages where absolutely nothing is at stake, and the best players in the world could needlessly get injured, ultimately hurting their respective leagues. At least, that’s the main argument against it.

Other than that, All-Star Games are just plain boring. I don’t think I have ever sat through an entire All-Star Game or Pro Bowl without falling asleep in front of the television. Like I said, nothing’s at stake – the allure of watching “your favorite all-stars” isn’t a good enough draw anymore, when you know that the players don’t even care about it. The entire concept of an All-Star game is stale and played out, and the proof is in the pudding.

Check out these stats: the 2010 MLB All-Star game, despite the fact that it determined home field advantage for the World Series, hit its lowest ratings performance ever, with a paltry 7.5 rating. The 2009 Pro Bowl received a 5.8 – sadly enough, its second-highest since 2003. As for the NBA All-Star Game, it got a 6.9 in 2010 (Though, to be fair, it was competing with the Winter Olympics). Just to put all that in perspective, CBS’ rehash of Hawaii Five-O received a rating this week of 8.0.

Then again, they DO have Grace Park …

So, the question remains: what in the hell can anyone possibly do to make people care about these futile, self-aggrandizing exercises interesting?

Well, it seems that the NHL might have an answer.

“What?!” You exclaim. It seems that the NHL has announced earlier today that the All-Star Game is moving away from its traditional Western Conference/Eastern Conference matchup, and doing something a bit unorthodox, and are stealing an idea from the playgrounds of America: the new format will allow pre-picked captains to form their own teams, based on the available All-Star roster. They will choose their teams in any order they choose. In other words, it turns the event into a giant pick-up game. This should no doubt bring back memories of grade school P.E. and recess to all parties involved.

Much like this, except with 6-foot, 200-pound athletes.

In any case, these “fantasy teams” will compete in the All-Star Game, as well as the SuperSkills competition. As to why they made the sudden and radical change, NHL Vice President Brendan Shanahan wanted to “make the game more fun for everyone,” basically “[injecting] more excitement and intrigue into all the events.”

The idea of a drastic change could actually work out well for the rest of the leagues. After all, we need only look at last year’s Pro Bowl, which changed its format from the week after the Super Bowl in Hawaii, to the week before the Super Bowl in South Florida, to see it feasible: the game ended up receiving a giant boost in ratings. People were interested in seeing the Pro Bowl, despite missing All-Star QBs Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, as many fans were still engaged in the NFL season. It showed in an 8.1 rating – a dramatic boost from the 5.8 it got in 2009.

Now, let’s think about the implications of this new, refreshing format to the rest of American sport – at the very least, to the NBA and MLB All-Star Games. The idea of choosing your own all-star teams would revolutionize the event. Instead of having an arbitrary “East vs. West” or “AL vs. NL” matchup, it would be a matchup that could potentially pit teammate against teammate, or preserve inter-conference (or interleague) rivalries, which could be intriguing for even the most fair-weather of fans.

Not to mention the implications of team captains picking sides. Imagine: say Kobe and LeBron were team captains for a “Fantasy” All-Star game. Would Kobe pick Pau and be loyal to his teammates, or go away from that and choose a Dwyane Wade, or a Chris Paul? Would LeBron dare pick a J.J. Hickson or a Mo Williams, and would they even want to play with him, as further fallout from “The Decision”? What implications would arise from a captain picking a certain player first? Or, even better – what would happen to the players who were picked last? What kind of drama would ensue based on the captains’ decisions, that might even carry over to the second half of the season? It would be must-see television. And, as an extra bonus to the media affiliates – imagine what kind of ratings you would get, then.

“You picked Kobe Bryant over ME?! Screw you, Kevin!”

Then, there’s the entire “Fantasy” aspect of the new format. Now, tell me this – how many of you have ever watched a Fantasy Football special on ESPN? (Guilty.) Why? Because people LOVE Fantasy sports! Imagine a true-to-life fantasy draft, in which the athletes themselves serve as the owners. We tend to do it all the time – putting together our dream lineups, taking our favorite players, or the very best in the league. Now, wouldn’t you want to see your favorite players do that? I would bet that a lot of sports (and fantasy sports) fans would tune in for that.

In any case, I have to agree with Scott Van Pelt (to whom I heard about this story earlier today) in that this would be a brilliant idea for the All-Star Games around the country, especially for the big boys like the NBA, MLB and NFL. It would definitely inject new life to a tradition seemingly on its death bed. To think – the NHL leading the charge of a good idea for the rest of American sport.

What’s next – the NHL becoming the most popular sport in the States?

Hello?? Seriously, is this thing on?!

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  1. MSR’s Random Sports Thoughts: Vol. 11 | The Macho Sports Report

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