Personally, I’d like to see the All-Star Game be transformed into something different, as despite the league and the player’s best efforts the entire All-Star Weekend has become stale. Not only has the All-Star Game lost its’ appeal to fans, but players, like the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, actively campaigned to not be included in the event this season, demonstrating that inclusion in the All-Star game is no longer considered an honour, but is more often than not seen as an obligation by the players that are involved. Certainly there are instances, like Brian Elliot leaving his vacation early to fill in last year in Columbus, that show that certain players are still engaged with the event, but this is certainly not the norm. This year, with both Alex Ovechkin and Johnathan Toews pulling out of the game it is more clear than ever that the players simply would prefer to have the time off to recoup and enjoy a few extra days with their family to recharge, rather than participate in All-Star Weekend. I believe that this disinterest is rooted in the concept of the game, which was initially intended to be an exclusive game, played by only the best players in the NHL, that was exciting and appealing to the fan. However, with the inclusion of new selection rules (such as every NHL team must be represented by a player and fan voting), the All-Star Game is no longer about having the ‘best players’ showcase their talent, but rather it’s about finding good players in each market to highlight, and hopefully promote each team. This is likely why the Arizona Coyotes were less than thrilled with John Scott’s inclusion in the game, as they must have believed that they would been much better off promoting their team, and generating ticket sales, by highlighting their young skilled players (i.e. Domi, Duclair, or Ekman-Larsson) at the All-Star Game, instead they had no representative at this year’s All-Star Game.
Should the point of the All-Star Game be to market the NHL’s star players, or should it be a showcase of the player’s elite skill for the fan’s enjoyment? Is the All-Star Game no longer about showing-off the best the NHL has to offer, but rather about promoting a player from each market to generate ticket and jersey sales for teams, while also generating a greater awareness of the NHL? I believe that today’s All-Star Game is run with the primary intent to help market the NHL and increase the NHL’s visibility. While the All-Star Weekend can still be entertaining, especially this year with John Scott’s inclusion, it certainly seems that being selected for the All-Star Game has lost the prestige and significance it once used to carry among players.
If we concede that the purpose of the All-Star game is largely rooted in marketing the NHL and expanding each team’s fanbase by highlighting their best players, then why bother changing the format of the All-Star game at all? Instead, I believe that the All-Star Game should be replaced, and instead of having an All-Star game the NHL should replace it with a Young-Guns, or Young Stars Game. I know that doesn’t sound as exciting, but stick with me. I believe this change would be beneficial for every party involved, and would be an entertaining game to watch for fans. Having a Young-Guns Game or whatever you’d like to call it, Rookie Showcase, or NHL Futures Game, would be hugely beneficial to the NHL in creating fan excitement and awareness of the ‘future stars’ of the NHL. It would be a competitive game, as players at that age are still in the process of developing and highlighting their talent for their own clubs to generate more ice-time and larger contracts, and it would provide young players with an international spotlight to begin their careers which would aid in creating and marketing stars for the NHL. Just think about it, the format could remain mostly intact with a 3-on-3 tournament where each team sends one or more players who are under the age of 23, and represent the future of their respective franchises. At 23 or younger, these players are still potentially on their entry-level deals, or just coming off of them, and having earned a maximum of $925,000 before bonuses during their entry-level contract, a $90,000 cash prize is still a significant motivation for a player at this stage in their career. Furthermore many of these players will likely still be proving themselves in the NHL, and could use this platform to demonstrate to their clubs, and the league, that they have something to offer, and that they compare favourably with prospects and young players from the other NHL franchises. A strong performance by a player could potentially increase their value within their own club, something that cannot be said of today’s All-Star festivities. Lack of talent would not be an issue with players such as Alex Galchenyuk (F), Aleksander Barkov (F), Jack Eichel (F), Mark Stone (F), Dylan Larkin (F), Aaron Ekblad (D), Morgan Rielly (D), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (G) who are all under-23, and that’s just a few names from the Atlantic Division, demonstrating that a competitive or at least entertaining team could certainly be assembled. And for those of you who look at that list and think, “Who’s that, never heard of him before…”, well isn’t that the point of this hypothetical game, to make fans aware of the young stars that are emerging in the NHL, and to generate hope for the future of their preferred franchise.
Ultimately, I believe that abandoning the All-Star game is inevitable and replacing it with a Young Guns or Young Stars Game would benefit everyone. From the perspective of the teams, they gain an excellent opportunity to highlight their exciting up and coming talent in an effort to draw in new fans and reinvigorate existing ones. Fans would get to see the future of their franchise stacked up against other team’s best young players and predict how these players will impact their team in the future, if they aren’t already making a significant impact in the NHL. I can see fans tuning in to make sure that their team has been drafting productively and that their team has young talented players developing. Also, as a fan, I would definitely like to see young generational players such as Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and others compete against each other, facilitating the development of the personal rivalries that enrich the hockey experience. And last, but certainly not least. is the benefit to the players, which is not insignificant. Older more established players would gain an opportunity to rest their body, recover from lingering injuries, and prepare for the playoff push, while young players would get an opportunity to gain some nationally-televised premium ice-time, compete for a significant sum of money, as well as market themselves on an international stage promoting both themselves, their team, and the league as a whole. While I believe that this may be a bit too radical of a change for the NHL to make all at once, the inclusion of an under-23 team in the World Cup of Hockey leads me to believe the NHL does desire to market it’s young players more prominently, and this would be an excellent way to replace an outdated and unpopular event, with a meaningful and entertaining one that benefits all parties involved.