Ah yes. Exhibition Sunday is upon us.
That wonderful day when both the NHL and the NFL pointlessly parade (some of) their biggest stars out in the same game to "compete" against one another in contests that will be scantly watched and even more scarcely cared about.
So while the NBA takes the opportunity to dominate the day with nationally-televised marquee matchups (the Chicago Bulls vs. the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs vs. the Dallas Mavericks, etc.), those who prefer America's most popular rough-and-tumble contact sports are left with one question to ponder.
What to watch—the NHL All-Star Game or the Pro Bowl?
Diehard football fans aside, the answer should be fairly simple and straightforward.
The NHL All-Star Game, of course.
Unlike the NFL, the NHL has gone to great lengths to keep its exhibition weekend exciting and interesting, from making its Skills Competition more akin to its NBA counterpart through steady expansion to switching up the format of the teams themselves. Captains now assemble their own squads through a Fantasy Draft rather than automatically aligning players by conference.
Sure, these are mostly gimmicky changes, but the very idea of an All-Star Game in any sport is little more than a gimmick in and of itself.
And, thus far, they've yielded rather positive results. The 2011 NHL All-Star Game turned out to be an exciting goal-fest, with Team Lidstrom earning an 11-10 decision over Team Staal.
Meanwhile, the NFL has responded to waning fan interest by moving up the date of the Pro Bowl, from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before, and briefly moving the game away from Hawaii.
Of course, the date change, which was intended to capture the attention of fans (and players) in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, has harmed the game considerably. Representatives from the AFC and NFC champions are no longer able to participate in the exhibition on account of their commitments to winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Then again, having scores of players "miss out" on the Pro Bowl is nothing new, nor is it a phenomenon consigned to the brutality of football. While the NFL easily has the most difficulty of any pro sports league of getting its top talent to attend an All-Star Game, the NHL has gone to great lengths of its own to keep those chosen to participate from backing out.
In 2009, the league instituted a rule change whereby players would be punished for skipping the All-Star Game if they were healthy, after a rash of stars, including Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, opted out of the game in Atlanta the year before. Detroit Red Wings teammates Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom tested the rule upon its institution and were slapped with one-game suspensions as a result.
Lidstrom and Anaheim Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne recused themselves from consideration this year before the voting ever began but weren't punished for doing so. Meanwhile, Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin, one of the league's premier stars, decided to stay home in protest of a four-game ban with which he was slapped just prior to this weekend.
In all honesty, both of Sunday's exhibitions are completely irrelevant and outdated, as are those put together by MLB, the NBA and the MLS. With so much sports content to choose from these days, most fans hardly have enough room left on their plates, much less in their stomachs, for the consumption of All-Star games that their favorite athletes don't even care to attend.
But, if you were a fan of both football and hockey and had to choose between the two exhibitions, chances are, you'd opt for the NHL's.