There has been a lot of complaining about the NHL All-Star Game this year.
Whether it is the fact that both conferences only have two teams represented in the starting lineup (this is before Sidney Crosby withdrew due to injury and was replaced by Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis) or the new rule causing two Detroit players to be suspended one game because of no-showing the game, it seems like no one is happy.
That is, of course, unless you are a fan of Montreal, Chicago, Anaheim, or Pittsburgh. There has got to be a way to make it better for the players and the fans. No solution is going to keep everyone happy, but I have a few ideas.
The first thing it to change the selection process for the starters. It is now based solely on the fans' vote. I have no problem with fan voting—this game is for them. But, is it really a showcase of "All-Stars" when one team, in particular the home team, is stuffing the ballots to get four of the six starters?
My thought is to still let the fans vote for the starters, but only one player from each team can be in the starting lineup. In the case of injury causing a starter to miss the game, the next highest vote getter, whose team is not already represented by a remaining player in the starting lineup, would fill in.
This way there are 12 teams represented at the beginning of the game, giving it more credibility and giving fans from more markets a reason to watch.
Now, fans have to be a little more selective about who they vote for and it may translate into more people watching more games so they are better educated on who really deserves to be there.
So let's take a look at how the team would look using my voting rules.
Eastern All Stars
Current 2009 team: F Sidney Crosby*-Pittsburgh, F Alexei Kovalev-Montreal, F Evgeni Malkin-Pittsburgh, D Andrei Markov-Montreal, D Mike Komisarek-Montreal, G Carey Price-Montreal
(*Crosby out due to injury and replaced by Coach's choice Martin St Louis-Tampa Bay)
My 2009 team: F Sidney Crosby*-Pittsburgh, F Alex Ovechkin-Washington, F Thomas Vanek-Buffalo, D Zdeno Chara-Boston, D Kimmo Timonen-Philadelphia, G Carey Price-Montreal
(*Crosby out due to injury and replaced by fan vote Evgeni Malkin-Pittsburgh)
Western All Stars
Current 2009 team: F Patrick Kane-Chicago, F Jonathan Toews-Chicago, F Ryan Getzlaf-Anaheim, D Brian Campbell-Chicago, D Scott Niedermayer-Anaheim, G Jean-Sebastian Giguere-Anaheim
My 2009 team: F Patrick Kane-Chicago, F Ryan Getzlaf-Anaheim, F Joe Thornton-San Jose, D Nicklas Lidstrom*-Detroit, D Dion Phaneuf-Calgary, G Roberto Luongo-Vancouver
(*Lidstrom out due to injury and replaced by fan's vote Sheldon Souray-Edmonton)
So now the East is represented by five teams currently in the playoff picture and has the top vote getter in Crosby being replaced by the second-highest vote getter, Malkin. Pittsburgh is currently the only team not currently in the playoffs based on the standings, but they are only one point out.
The West has all six teams currently in playoff positions, including the No. 1 through No. 4 seeds based on current standings. This is a better collection of players, which is better for the game and for the fans to see different guys playing on lines together.
I would also like to see a rule put in place that prevents no more than three players from a team from being selected to the All-Star Game.
No offense to Montreal fans for voting in four starters, but you can see all four guys play at 42 home games each year. Why would you not want to see the best the league has to offer from every team all in one place? Isn't that what the All-Star Game is supposed to be about?
I would not be opposed to the players voting on the reserves. Every player must vote for six forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie, but are not allowed to vote for guys on their own team.
If there are ties in the player's votes, use the fan vote as a tiebreaker. This little wrinkle allows the fans to get the starters they want, the players get a voice since they know the guys they play against better than just about anyone else, and the coaches don't get crucified by the fans and the media for selecting their own guys or their favorite people or former players. Instead, coaches can just work on putting together great lines in order to put on a great show for the fans.
There has also been a great deal of debate over the rule that commissioner Gary Bettman put into place that suspends players the first game after the All-Star Game for not participating if they played the last game before the All-Star Game.
Most notably, this is affecting Detroit players Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk. Both were selected as reserves to the West, but both are declining to play due to injury. They both played in the last game before the All-Star Game.
Lidstrom has been playing this year fighting tendonitis and Datsyuk has been playing with an injured hip. They both want to use the break to rest and recover so they can be better prepared for the stretch run of the regular season and get the team into a position to defend the Stanley Cup.
Crosby is also injured and has withdrawn from playing in the All-Star Game. He did, however, attend the festivities so he is not being suspended.
Now, I don't agree with the suspensions, but I also don't feel the players should just blow off the fans either.
I propose a monetary penalty. Give each player a bonus of $50,000 for being selected to the All-Star Game. They get the money if they play in the game. If they are injured and are unable to participate, they still get $25,000 for showing up and interacting with the fans.
If they are chosen and do not show up at all, the player's $25,000 appearance fee will be donated to a charity of the league's choosing and the player is fined $25,000 which will be donated to a charity of that player's choosing. I think the charity needs to be either one that is associated with the league or one that is local to the site of the game.
This gives an incentive for the players to show up, but also helps give the players not showing up a way to save face with the fans since charities benefit from the money collected from the league and that player.
It should be an honor to be an All-Star, and if this is in conjunction with my new voting rules, it makes the player more responsible to the fans and his peers.
Since we are talking about catering to the fans, how about we find a network which more people get to view this showcase of the greatest hockey players on the planet? I realize that the NHL had to find someone to show their games after the strike, but I don't feel that the game can grow anymore being shown on Versus.
I would like to see the NHL back on ESPN. Versus is in approximately 39 percent less households than ESPN. The current TV deal was extended by three years as of January 2008 to show hockey on Versus and NBC. So, Bettman's great plan to grow the league's fan base is to put the product in less households, and to put the fan-voted league showcase on Versus.
Why is the game not on NBC like the Winter Classic was? Having a showcase game on national television can do nothing but improve the chances of gaining new fans.
Are you really telling me that the US Figure Skating Championships will bring in more viewers on NBC today than the All-Star Game would if it was on instead? Not to put down the difficulty of a 15-year-old girl doing a triple lutz, but I don't think so!
Somebody with some common sense and a set of brass pucks needs to knock down Bettman's office door and force him to make better decisions on the direction of the game.
I know no one of any true importance within the hierarchy of the NHL will read this, or would even take any of my suggestions seriously, but if the fans of hockey don't speak up, the All-Star Game is destined to fail.
On the bright side, it will never be the worst game as long as the NFL still puts on the Pro Bowl. But that is a rant for another day.
There has been a lot of complaining about the NHL All-Star Game this year.