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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Finally, the awesome All-Star game that fans deserve

I love All-Star games. Let me rephrase that—I love the idea of All-Star games. I love looking at the All-Star rosters a week before the game and picturing Drew Brees throwing a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, or Chris Paul tossing an alley-oop to Kevin Durant. However, the sad truth of the matter is that All-Star games are usually pretty damn boring. The reasons are numerous—defense becomes an afterthought, players don’t want to risk injury, play is sloppy because of limited practice time, etc. In my opinion, it all boils down to this—All-Star games usually suck, because the players’ hearts are generally not in it. That is to say, unless you can somehow get the players’ competitive juices flowing, All-Star game = snooze-a-thon. When we are lucky enough to have a close score near the end of an All-Star game, of course it turns into the great spectacle it is supposed to be. All of a sudden, Superstar A’s competitive instincts take over, and he begins to hustle for loose balls, or maybe even play a little defense! Unfortunately, this is only for a very small portion of the entire game, and the million-dollar question that professional sports leagues have been trying to answer is, “How do we get these guys to play hard for the entire game?”

The prevailing, and most pessimistic, line of thought has been that the professional leagues need to create some kind of motive for the players to win, and hence, give it their all from the outset. Representing their respective teams and cities, and thanking the thousands of fans who voted for them, is apparently not enough motive for these millionaire jocks. Major League Baseball thought it was the smartest kid in the class when it implemented the “home-field advantage in the World Series” rule in 2002 (after the debacle in Milwaukee – Brewers fans know what I’m talking about). As per usual, though, Major League Baseball donned the dunce cap. This was a dumb idea on so many levels–1) how are you going to take away the incentive for teams to try and obtain the best record at the end of the regular season? A team could be so far ahead in its own league, but in a dead heat with a team from the other league for the MLB’s best record, and not even have to face the tough decision as to whether they should rest players or not. 2) How are you going to attach such an important incentive to this game when every starter is out of the game by the fifth inning? Yea, MLB, the starters don’t play big minutes in the other leagues’ all-star games either, but at least you can re-insert them in the game during crunch time. I understand the reasoning of the “no re-entry” rule, baseball, but it’s still frustrating.  3) How are you going to create an incentive that completely excludes the all-stars from non-competitive teams?  Why should Ryan Zimmerman give a damn about who has home-field advantage in the World Series? It’s not like the Nationals are going to be there. So yeah, MLB fell flat on its face, and its misstep has made other professional sports leagues wary of changing their yawn-inducing formats. However, the progressive-minded NHL just made some very intriguing changes to its mid-season classic.

The NHL has never been a stranger to tinkering with the format of its All-Star game. Originally, the game called for the defending Stanley Cup champions to play the best that the rest of the NHL had to offer. Since then, it has switched from players from American teams vs. players from Canadian teams, to East vs. West, to the NHL vs. the Soviet Union, back to East vs. West, to North American players vs. “the World,” and finally back to East vs. West. None of these formats solved the fundamental problem with the All-Star game, it’s wide-open and nobody really cared about the outcome of the game (except for the NHL vs. the Soviet Union, which only got scrapped because fans didn’t want to see their heroes lose to communists). However, the new format could potentially solve these problems. Playing off the success of fantasy sports, the NHL is instituting a live fantasy draft. Here’s how it will work: from a group of 100 players on the ballot, fans will vote for their top six all-stars by position without regard to the conference in which the player plays. The three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie receiving the most votes will be named NHL All-Stars. The remaining 36 all-stars will be named by the NHL Hockey Operations Department for a total of 42 all-star players (3 goalies, 6 defensemen, and 12 forwards per team). After the 42 all-stars have been selected, the players will choose two captains per team. A fantasy draft event will be held with 54 players (42 all-stars and 12 rookies designated by the Hockey Operations Department) during which the captains will draft the remaining members of their respective teams.  First selection in the draft will be determined by a coin flip and selections will continue on an alternating basis. Each team will be required to select three goalies, six defensemen, and 12 forwards in any order they choose.

How awesome is this format? This is just like the pick-up games I used to play as a kid, except these are supremely gifted athletes instead of little pre-teen snots. The captains are going to pick their buds, and their buds are going to play their hardest to justify a) that their captain made the right pick and b) that the opposing captain made a mistake passing them over. I also love that 12 rookies will be a part of this game, because their youthful energy and excitement tend to rub off on the vets. Furthermore, the watchability (not a real word) of this game skyrockets, if for no other reason than it gives fans a glimpse of what an uncapped NHL could look like. The conference-based all star game lets fans see the best players in each conference playing with each other, which is obviously, only half of the possibilities available. By removing the limitations of the conference affiliation from the All Star game (while also not having the Olympic country-based limitations), suddenly you’re able to have a line featuring Henrik Sedin, Jarome Iginla, and Alex Ovechkin. The best part is that the NHL is able to make their players play hard, and increase the appeal of the game to fans, without offering some kind of reward-based incentive. I am really impressed with the NHL on this one, they thought outside the box and realized that incentives, or lack thereof, was not the problem with their all-star game. The problem was the tired all-start format, featuring conferences/leagues pitted against each other, which seems to fail across American sports.

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