There are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 19,000 sporting events in the United States in any given year, and that’s only taking in the Big Four sports, pro soccer and college football and basketball (men’s and women’s), so it is understandable that we have only so much brain to give to practice games and exhibitions. As an example, the Pro Bowl is largely and correctly regarded as American’s greatest shame, because for all its other problems, America’s role as the world’s entertainer is damaged by the low level of this particular entertainment.
Thus, it is easy to see why the NHL All-Star Game being awarded to San Jose for 2019 slipped under the radar, the skyscrapers, the two-story homes and even under the topsoil. All-star games are under assault across the continent for being anachronisms whose only value are watching the teams being selected (and the NBA even screwed that up this past week).
This means that to get the area reinvigorated in the next year’s time, the NHL may need to fool with its format to address the new societal realities. The divisional-round-robin format doesn’t exactly vibrate with fun, and the game is way too convivial in any event.
Thus, we suggest that the league take a note from the NBA’s new book and go Stars vs. Snubs. Or acknowledge the new politics under which we endure and go U.S. vs. Foreigners. You know, sell that misplaced jealousy and status-seeking.
The enduring argument about all-star selections (other than how many players want to be selected and then not show up) has always been whether it should reward careers or best seasons – in other words, legacy choices against guys actually doing the deeds. And as we have seen with the NBA, those who don’t get picked get very very salty indeed.
This is an area that screams for exploitat . . . err, marketing. The NHL does not have a history of guys complaining that they should have been named, but it is amenable to trying anything to get people to pay attention to their ever-shifting formats. Thus, the trick is to name a team that will torque off other players (maybe taking Alex Ovechkin but not Sidney Crosby, or vice versa) to the point that they will both bitch about the selections and bring that bitching to the ice.
If it means paying one team more than the other, do it. If it means Gary Bettman doing a presser in which he says “We all know who the best players are, and these are the others,” do it. Hockey struggles to avoid stratifying its work force, but it seems to be working in the NBA, where royalty and reputation go hand in hand (see Paul George).
But if the game is coming back here to give an artificial prod to a franchise that evidently needs one, the league should make it a priority to find a way to make the game We vs. They. It will be an absurd contrivance, but at this point, what contrivance hasn’t been tried? So let's go past "He Hate Me" to "Of Course We Do," and see if that'll sell.