NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14: (L-R) NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Develpoment Brendan Shanahan (L) NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Mike Cammalleri of the Montreal Canadiens chat during the cocktail reception hosted by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter at The Monkey Bar on September 14 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images for the NHL)
As most hockey fans know, the 2011 NHL All-Star Game festivities are coming up in a couple of weeks. There's already been a lot of news, speculation, and criticism about it. But much of it is the same as usual - Fan Fair, the Skills Competition, and finally the All-Star Game itself.
There isn't a Rookie Game this time, and the game format is neither Eastern Conference versus Western Conference nor North America versus the World. Instead, the rookies will be participating in the Skills Competition and nothing else, while a new "fantasy draft" will divvy up the players chosen for the event. New takes on the same old event, really.
The NHL changes things all the time - game rules, how they balance inter-conference games in the schedule, and how they hand out disciplinary actions, just to name a few - so that's nothing unusual. In the NHL, change itself is a tradition. This is one of the few sports leagues, probably in the world, that changes things so often and sometimes pretty drastically instead of trying to maintain long-time traditions.
So the changes in the All-Star Game, and subsequent weekend, aren't all that surprising. It's one of the NHL's favorite things to tinker around with, after all. But some of what they decided to do is a bit surprising, however.
The biggest change is how the teams themselves will be chosen. The fans voted in six players - one for each position - instead of voting in the starters, as was previously customary. And the NHL never guaranteed that those six players would start the game, either, just that fans would get to choose six players.
Then they released how this "fantasy draft" will work - two captains would be chosen, and they'd get to choose from a pool of predetermined players, like this was some elementary school PE class with people picking teams. It's to be quite a spectacle, in fact. They'll be televising the draft, probably in a game show type atmosphere, I'm sure.
But it was the NHL decided who the team captains would be, and who the remaining 36 players to be chosen were, as well as the rookies - not the fans. In fact, the fans have very little to do with this whole venture, other than to pay money for tickets, merchandise, and concessions. They didn't even get to pick the starters, after all.
It's because the change in format isn't for the fans at all, but for the players.
One of the knocks against the All-Star Game is that the players don't even want to be there - and that can be true. There was an All-Star Game not so long ago that a couple of Detroit Red Wings tried skipping after they'd been either voted in or picked to go. They were told to show up, anyways, though.
And Brendan Shanahan, the NHL Vice President of Hockey & Business Development, implied in a tweet that players - through their GM's - let the NHL know that they'd rather not attend due to injury or wear and tear on their bodies. Presumably, they were told that they could do that, which is why they did. And I would guess that would be to avoid any awkward situations with people not showing up. That might help explain why some people were left off of the roster.
And, from what's been out on the internet about this picking teams format, it seems to me that most fans find the format to be rather silly. It won't stop them from tuning in to watch them do it when it happens, of course. That'd be like people who hate the shootout not watching the shootout to see if their team will win, if they didn't. It'll be something on par with watching a train wreck for some, I'm sure.
So instead of the All-Star Game being about the fans, as it has been in the past, it's now turned into being about the players. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if they're more excited about going. Although, I would argue that finding a more of a balance between fans' and players' expectations would be better in the end.
Still, you have to wonder why the NHL bothers with the entire All-Star Game event if the players don't want to go in the first place, and if they're not involved the fans very much anymore.