Well that was… something. The most recent iteration of the NHL All-Star game took place this past weekend on Jan. 30 and 31, and while the hockey world seems to be falling over itself in a hurry to congratulate the NHL for finally figuring out the oft-tinkered-with game format, I’m here to rain on that parade and point out why the party in Nashville was just more of the same.
First off, a little credit where credit is due. The three-on-three divisional playoff format (the fifth different format for the competition since 1995), is the best that the NHL has put together in a long time.
With fewer skaters on the ice all of the players had more room to manoeuvre and pull off some of the skill moves that could only be attempted in a meaningless game.
The new format also had the added bonus of being staged as a mini-tournament of 20-minute-long games, stopping the run of marathon games with scores of 17–12, in which even the players were clearly bored halfway through the contest.
However, just because this version was better doesn’t mean it was good. It just points out how terrible past versions of the game have been.
The biggest problem with the game, and one which is the hardest to solve, is that hockey is a sport that needs to be played with 100 per cent effort.
You can’t blame the players for refusing to play hard, there is no incentive for them to risk injuring either themselves or anyone else.
However, the games of glorified shinny, in which players are afraid to get too close to each other while avoiding back checking like the plague, that ensue because of this are worse than boring, they are unwatchable.
The players are in the midst of a gruelling 82-game-long schedule and a week-long break to recover from the multiple bumps and bruises that they have accumulated leads to only players in their first All-Star game and players from the team hosting the event to even give the appearance of effort.
Pretty much the only thing that people will remember about the games on Sunday is the amazing story that is John Scott. As much fun as it was to see the hulking bruiser out there with the best players in the world, scoring goals, getting into mock fights and winning the Most Valuable Player award, the thing to remember is that the joy of John Scott is not repeatable.
Even if the NHL were to add an enforcer spot into the All-Star lineup every year, the magic will have worn off. Just because the league got lucky that Scott stole the show this year does not mean that the game is fixed.
That’s not to say that the entire weekend is irredeemable, the skills contest event that takes place Saturday night before the All-Star game is always fun to watch.
It allows the players to show a different, often goofy side of themselves to fans that are used to only seeing them in the high-pressure environment of the NHL. The mini competitions themselves also allow the players to exhibit their immense skill in a format that doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is, a fun event for the fans where the points don’t matter.