When I first heard about the new format for the NHL All-Star Game, the very first thing I thought was it might be interesting, but there was a lot of room for some pretty large failures.
With the announcement of the starters this afternoon, it's been confirmed that this new method of fan-balloting has resulted in a flawed disaster of a Pittsburgh Penguins-praising, bandwagon-voting, Eastern-Conference dominated snooze fest of an event that will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina later this month.
Let me break it down: In case you haven't heard, the "Starting Six" consists of four Pittsburgh Penguins and two Chicago Blackhawks (two of the biggest bandwagon-fan-favorite teams in the NHL at the moment, and I would say THE two biggest if it weren't for the Detroit Red Wings).
At forward are Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby is really the only player who deserves to be in this spot right now, as he is playing far and away the best hockey in the NHL at the moment.
As for Toews, he's not playing bad, but he's not even leading the Chicago Blackhawks in scoring.
He's the posterboy for the franchise who has his face plastered all over EA Sports NHL 11, and that's the only reason I can think of him getting a starting spot over guys like Sharp.
Same goes to Malkin, who has been well below the scoring numbers he's capable of. I'd certainly have selected someone like Alexander Semin, Steven Stamkos or even that Alexander Ovechkin guy everyone keeps talking about over him.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury continues to amaze me as he is given such high accolade when it seems like every single game I see him play in he gives up at least one horribly soft goal that most NHL goalies would be pulled for, yet is still considered to be among the league's best.
In fact, if it weren't for such a solid defense in front of him, I firmly believe his numbers would consistently be similar to those of Martin Broduer's this season.
As for the defense: Kris Letang of Pittsburgh and Duncan Keith of Chicago. Keith, albeit last year's Norris Trophy winner, is having a much rougher year this time around, and is last on the Chicago defense with a minus seven rating.
Letang is having a good year, but would any true hockey fan in their right mind vote for either of these guys over defensive juggernauts like Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom, Drew Doughty, Erik Johnson or even Dustin Byfuglien, who has been a revelation for the Atlanta Thrashers just one summer removed from Chicago trading him away in a mass salary-cap driven exodus?
I certainly wouldn't.
In my eyes, Letang is fortunate to be even considered a possibility for the All-Star game when there are so many other players out there who are far superior to him in skill. And obviously, when the fans can't even vote in the true all-stars, I think it's safe to say the event has sunk to a new low.
As you can probably notice, this new fan-balloting system has turned into nothing more than a "who's the most popular team in the NHL" contest, with the obvious winners being Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Players who aren't even close to the level of play that used to be required to even be considered for this once-elite event are now making the starting lineup purely because their fanbase can go on the Internet and click a few buttons.
Some may argue that this is still fair because every team had an equal opportunity to go online and vote, a point which is true; however, with it being out of the question that most of the hockey fans in the United States cheer for Eastern Conference teams, it really doesn't seem fair to the Western Conference, which gets very little coverage from the mostly Eastern-based hockey media, particularly smaller-market teams like Phoenix, Anaheim, Columbus, Nashville, Los Angeles, Dallas or many others whose fan bases pale in comparison to those of the Penguins, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Canadiens, or Maple Leafs.
Because of this, the inevitably Eastern-Conference based "captains" for the All-Star Game will inevitably leave a large amount of talent off their rosters in favor of some far-inferior players who they are more familiar with, purely because of the disparity of the NHL schedule.
The Western and Eastern conferences still do not meet nearly enough, with some teams only seeing each other once for the entirety of the year (which, I will agree, is a step forward from where it has been in the past).
Guys from teams particularly in the Pacific Division like Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski (Phoenix); Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams (Los Angeles); Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller (Anaheim); Ryan Clowe, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Danny Heatley (San Jose); Brad Richards and Loui Ericksson (Dallas) are all phenomenal talents (some even former All-Stars themselves) who are at risk of being left out of the All-Star Game due to the tearing down of the Conference barrier.
Toni Lydman, one of the league leaders at plus 21 was not even considered. Teemu Selanne is 40-years-old and already has 10 goals and 34 points, third best on the Anaheim Ducks, and one more point than Evgeni Malkin, who is starting!
It extends to the rest of the NHL as well, as guys like Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets), Shea Weber (Nashville Predators), Dustin Byfuglien (Atlanta Thrashers) or Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes) all are at risk for missing this game, which as progressively become more and more exclusive to just a select few teams ever since fan-balloting has been implemented.
The fact that such amazing talents can be completely ignored due to what team they play on is what makes the All-Star Game turn into a complete and total joke to me with absolutely no integrity.
The title of NHL All-Star means virtually nothing anymore beyond the notion that you can win a popularity contest because of where you play your game, and not how talented you are.
In conclusion: This format sucks and leads to most of the Western Conference, particularly those players in smaller market teams, with virtually zero chance of making an appearance in the All-Star game.
I won't be watching the All-Star game for the first time in I don't know how long, and I hope the rest of you who absolutely detest this new format for team selection will join me.
Hopefully, the worst viewer rating in All-Star Game history will convince the NHL to go back to a format that makes the title of "All-Star" meaningful once again.