Last season the NHL took a brilliant step forward regarding the All Star game. They eliminated the East vs. West format and instituted a “fantasy draft”.
The draft is the best thing to happen to the All Star Game since ever. Letting the league’s best players basically just pull sticks to determine teams was a fantastic addition to last year’s game and shouldn’t be changed. Ever.
With the All Star rosters being announced today there was the expected uproar from fans clamoring for their team’s snubs and the inclusion of those who they deem unworthy of selection. For example, there is little reason for Thomas Vanek to have been left off this roster. Perhaps there was a wink-wink nudge-nudge agreement to leave him out in order to rest, but he has been one of the NHL’s best forwards this season. There is little reason to leave him out of this game.
The likely explanation for Vanek being snubbed can likely be found in fan voting. Because the fans are allowed to determine the six starters for the game, there is the usual run of home players who are sometimes undeserving of the selection. So, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and Tim Thomas were voted to participate. That doesn’t necessarily mean they would have been selected. Of course, Michalek, Thomas and Karlsson are worthy additions. The other three could probably have been left off for other players. Here lies the problem.
Every season fans flood the ballot boxes and a couple of home players get selected as starters regardless of their merit. Some years have worse selections than others, but the point remains. There are six spots being robbed from potentially deserving players – not that the All Star game matters. There must be some way to remedy this situation to include more players deserving of participation and to still include the fan presence, if that is even that big of a deal.
The only possible idea for a fix comes from Harrison Mooney on Puck Daddy. His idea to only allow voting for the captains is brilliant. The fans can still flood ballots for their home guys if they choose, but there is still the possibility to include crazy matchups. Mooney cites Sedin vs. Sedin as a prime example.
Mooney’s solution is brilliant. I wouldn’t pretend to have a better idea as to how to fix the yearly roster debate. This solution allows for fan interaction and the ability to include the league’s best players every year.
What I would like to see is two-fold. First, move the game to a preseason date. Let it act as an opening ceremony, of sorts. Still use the skills competition and the actual game; just host it at the beginning of the season (side note, bring back the YoungStars game. It was a cool addition, especially in the four-on-four format). For the preseason affair, the pool of players could be selected from the first and second-team All Star rosters from the end of the previous season. Not only does this reward an entire season of work, but it will ensure the year’s best are being honored.
The fantasy draft format could remain intact and by instituting Mooney’s fan captains you set the table for a tremendous event. While the risk of injury for the start of the year is a risk, the players are so nonchalant during the game that it is practically a non-factor (sorry Jonas Hiller). In addition, the game wouldn’t interrupt the regular season, it wouldn’t force injured players into an additional game (on the road for most) and you would see the league’s stars after a summer of rest.
The injury concern is the most obvious elephant in the room here. Also the fact that there is no mid-season break would certainly draw concern. However, for an event that players likely bemoan, changing the date may actually bring better results. Of course, it would be a whole lot harder for guys to duck out as they have in recent years.
The bottom line is that the actual All Star even needs a shake up. There have been tweaks made to the overall format (North America vs. World etc.), but the game itself has always been a mid-season anchor. However, a high-scoring game with little value is somewhat wasted in late January.
No matter how some may want to spin it, this is not a premier event on the yearly calendar. The Winter Classic? Yes. Draft? Lesser, but yes. Stanley Cup Final? Of course. The All Star game just doesn’t have that stature. A move to September or October may not bring positive results, but a change may bring positives in this case.