Sunday, January 29, 2012

A fool-proof guide to make the All-Star Game slightly interesting

Look, you're never going to make All-Star games matter the way they did back in their heydays.

Still, after noting the mute Ottawa crowd today, I thought there must be some way to add a little bit of sexiness to the event. I've made some of these points before - probably in more than one outlet - but this seems like a good time to bang that drum again. With that, here's my fool-proof guide to make the All-Star Game slightly interesting.

Striking while the iron is hot

Every league seems to schedule these events when the market is already saturated with their product. No one gives a damn about exhibitions like these in the middle of playoff races in the MLB, NHL and NBA. The NFL's Pro Bowl suffers from an almost laughable disparity in intensity from brutal postseason games to that exhibition. (Seriously, the Super Bowl has its work cut out for it following conference finals ... how can a bloodless event hope to compete?)

So, my question is: why not hold these events when people are dying for it?

If you held the NHL All-Star Game a week before the season starts, it would be a way to feed those who have been famished from hockey after a long summer. It would be a big welcome back for players and we could catch up on what they did over the break. Everyone would be tanner and flabbier and generally fresher. By scheduling it around training camp, people would already be around.

Oh yeah, it would also be a nice way to say, "Hey, the season's about to start!"

(Sure, there might be some players who skip the event because it's before the season, but I'd bet it would be a little bit less frequent than the in-season bumps and bruises.)

Yes, players might be rusty, but they shouldn't be exhausted. If you gave the NHL a "spring break" where everyone gets 2-4 days off when the All-Star Game would have happened, then you'd really be onto something.

Champs vs. All-Stars

One really cool wrinkle to the pre-season idea: you'd have the hindsight of a full season. That would be a more realistic representation of who the All-Stars would be, but better yet, we'd know who won the Stanley Cup.

And wouldn't it be cool to give those champions a "last hurrah" in a salary cap age when most teams not named the Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings lose significant guys after winning it all?

You could schedule the All-Star Game in the winning city and have that team unveil it's banner on national television. Imagine how cool it would be for the disassembled 2010 Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks to get one more game together before splitting up? There would be times when it could get downright emotional. Picture, for a second, Mark Recchi playing his final NHL contest in the All-Star Game after a tearful pre-game ceremony.

Even beyond the tugging-on-the-heart-strings stuff, a defending champion would have a chip on its shoulder and built-in chemistry. There would be plenty of guys who never imagined participating in an All-Star Game in their careers.

I'd say the only time the Ottawa crowd cared today was when Senators did something well, so you know what would keep an audience involved? The ups and downs of their own team trying to beat a group of All-Stars.

It would be as close to awesome as these things can get.

Alternate ideas

If you're not going to change the system, at least make logical tweaks. The No. 1 thing for me is to make sure that you spotlight the most interesting people - not the best players or nicest guys.

The 2012 Fantasy Draft was bland because they went with Zdeno Chara and Daniel Alfredsson as captains, who brought a rice cake flavor to the event. If you're going to do it, have wacky guys like Scott Hartnell, Patrick Kane (yes, again), Tim Thomas and so on pick the teams. This year's version was all about not offending friends and teammates, which is as boring as it gets.


Yes, it's not that big of a deal that the All-Star Game is milquetoast, but why not make it better if you can? What would you do to make it better?