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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Did I Just Completely Revolutionize The All-Star Game?

Well, it’s that time of year again. With the Winter Classic behind us and the trade deadline/playoff race a couple months away, the hockey world is forced to give full coverage to the least exciting and most trivial gimmick in all of sports – the All-Star Game. This year’s event will be held in Ottawa, and anyone looking for evidence on how little the league’s fans care about the game should look no further than the Starter’s Ballot voting results. Four of the six selected players are members of the host team with only goalie Tim Thomas and defenseman Dion Phaneuf coming from outside the Senators. Clearly, everyone not located in or around the Canadian capital has tuned out of this supposedly fan-centric event.

But you know what annoys me more than the flat, passionless game played once a year in front of a flat, passionless audience? People who rip on it without proposing better alternatives. Literally every time the subject is brought up in an ESPN article, LeBrun and Burnside seize their one chance to seem edgy and proclaim that the league should “blow it up”. Ohhh, look at you! So cool and brash! Blow it up, you say? How super-punk of you graying curmudgeons to have an opinion so bold! Picking on the single easiest aspect of the NHL season over and over again without providing an alternative option is now the norm, and that feels a bit lazy to me. Is this NHL still too busy patting themselves on the back for thinking up the Classic? Is no one working on turning this joke into a watchable night of hockey? With those thoughts in mind, I’m here to save the day with my completely revolutionary All-Star Game proposition…

Educated fans will remember that last year brought the game’s first real revolution in a number of years – the fantasy draft. While this extra event did provide us another night of All-Star coverage (something that will actually be a drag on the event once the initial novelty wears off), slightly interesting team-choosing storylines and a rash of Phil Kessel jokes, it did nothing to improve the actual game itself. Come Sunday, we were once again treated to a high-scoring, low-excitement game that even the most die-hard fans had no trouble turning off. The fantasy aspect was actually an ingenious idea, but it didn’t go far enough to alter the game’s identity. The event is not the problem, the game is…

So what’s my idea? Blow up the game, of course! But rather than settling on that simplistic and unoriginal opinion, I propose a Phoenix-from-the-Flames-type event revision. No more All-Star Game. Instead, an All-Star Tournament! The Game is already lambasted for being a gimmicky scrimmage that rarely resembles what hockey is all about, so why not embrace the gimmickry full-on? With an average score line more reminiscent of a bad football game, it’s not like we’re destroying something pure with this move. Hear me out on the logistics…

- Eight mini-teams (comprised of six players and one goalie) selected by the eight starters/captains (determined by a suddenly much more dynamic and interesting fan balloting system) will play a NCAA-type knockout tournament consisting of 7 total games.

- Each game would be two four-minute period of three-on-three, full-ice hockey. This gives fans the chance to see the wide-open, would-be overtime format we’ve been hearing so much about from those Research & Development camps. The length of the games is actually the easiest thing to revise here. Eight total minutes is the max, I think, and even that's reasonable based on the below. One 5-minute period is my back-up plan.

- The total game time would decrease from 60 minutes of action down to 56 (with the two four-minute periods), but logistics regarding when “intermissions” would take place and when the ice would be resurfaced would still have to be hammered out. So to answer the inevitable first concern, yes, a tournament is totally doable in the course of the regular ASG time slot.

- There are a couple of concerns that come with a tourney format. Firstly, losing teams might feel gipped that they only played 8 minutes of hockey before being eliminated. Winning teams might be concerned that more time on the ice increases the risk of getting injured. They play too much, they complain. They play too little, they complain. Well, what about if the winning team picks two or three players from a dispatched opponent in order to bolster their numbers along the way? Mercenary-style. That way the All-Stars get more AND less playing time. Problem solved...

- Instead of losing interest 15 minutes into a 8-3 game, fans would be compelled to watch by their desire to see who wins it all. Fan interest is recycled into much smaller segments ensuring it doesn't burn out by the second period of this traditional snooze-fest. The MVP award can become the Stanley Car, awarded to the winning team’s best player, or to a charity of the captain's chosing. We want to see a champion, a winner at the end of it who can walk away with actual pride in their still-meaningless victory. In the nobody-really-loses Game we’ve got going now, us fans certainly aren’t coming out on top.

- Fan interest can also surge given the team drafting possibilities. Last year’s “Ooo, let’s see what happens to the Sedins” dynamic was actually quite one-dimensional because there were only two possibilities - either they'd be on the same team or they wouldn't. You can already tell with this year's event that the only interesting story line is who gets picked last. With eight different players selecting much smaller groups, each choice is packed with power and intrigue. Imagine the fifth captain Steven Stamkos selecting childhood best friend Michael Del Zotto while Zdeno Chara is still on the board. Or maybe Chara’s a captain as well and he takes Ryan Callahan in an “I’m sorry I broke your ankle, you’re obviously nasty”-type move. With two teams and two captains, the possibilities were limited (and repeatedly mentioned by the NHL ad nausea until the thrill of the unknown was all dried up). With eight captains selecting eight teams, the possibilities for compelling, dynamic temporary-teammate storylines are actually endless.

- Well what about the Young Stars Game? Although it never became must-see TV, the focus given to the league's promising kids was a step in the right direction. When a kid like Jeff Skinner starts tearing up the league in his rookie year, it's in the NHL's best interest to get him out in front of the masses. Maybe instead of eight elected captains, the fans chose seven and the league selects last year's Calder winner to be the Young Stars Team captain. He can select his team from a group of promising first and second year players, and the kids can have a go of it. The only stipulation is that they're not allowed to name their own team - each year, the they'll simply be known as the Cinderellas.

- The white-noise, nobody-gives-a-shit build up to the game can actually take on a whole new form with the mini-touney set up. All the sudden, fans are figuring out which team they’ll cheer for based on the captains and who’s selected who. There’s more to contemplate pre-event, like the bracket drawing for instance and what strategy the captains will take in selecting their teams. Team naming could be another fun aspect of the event – imagine watching Sidney Crosby's Subdued Psychos lineup against Tim Thomas and the Tea Party Express! Jerseys would be an issue to overcome, but with all the "thought" going into this year's ASG sweaters, I expect we can figure out something feasible.

- Speaking of captains, imagine if my system was in place for this year’s game. Instead of having a wholly-mockable quartet of Senators receive the somewhat meaningless “starting” honor, they would be captaining different teams intent on taking each other down come Sunday's knock-out. Ottawa fans would be torn into factions based on their favorite player instead of just sitting there unsure of what to care about. Literally every craptastic aspect of the current format turns into pure gold upon my revision. How am I not employed by the NHL yet?!

I’m sure people will poke holes in my still-in-its-infancy idea, but I’m telling you this would save-slash-revolutionize the NHL’s All-Star Game. The draft-day event would be drastically more dynamic. The skills competition is still sweet and deserves to stay as is in at least some way, shape or form. Come Sunday, however, it should be Tourney Time. No more meaningless game, I think we'd all prefer a meaningless tournament instead. Am I right, people?!

Good ideas of mine
It's like I can't control it
I just think in gold...

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