At the time of this article being written, my laptop rests on my lap as the NHL All-Star game plays on the television in front of me. It seems fitting as the NFL’s Pro Bowl is set to air Sunday, and the NBA All-Star game not far on the horizon.
With that said, I have to admit I give the NHL a lot of credit. Considering they are the lowest on the four major sport totem pole, they sure do think outside of the box when it comes to displaying their All-Stars every year.
Like the NBA and MLB, the NHL’s All-Star game falls during the season, unlike the Pro Bowl played after the season, and no one really wants to put forth a ton of effort in this contest either. However, unlike MLB, this game carries no significance whatsoever.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the most enjoyable of all the All-Star games.
When you look at all of the festivities for the other sports, you have the same old stuff.
- 3-point shooting contest
- Slam Dunk contest
- All-Star Game
- Home Run Derby
- Futures Game
- Celebrity All-Star Softball Game
- All-Star game to see which league gets home field advantage in the World Series
- Skills competition
- Pro Bowl
When you look at those sports, it is really just the same old, same old. Nothing new to see, and with the NFL being the most popular of all the sports, they should take a page out of the NHL’s All-Star playbook.
There was a time when the NHL would just throw out their best players and watch them light up the scoreboard. In the days of Gretzky, Yzerman, Lemieux, Bure and Jagr that was fine. After all, that was pre-strike and when ESPN was a proud provider of hockey. After that strike came the Outdoor Life Network, the Versus Network and finally finding a home on NBC.
The league recognized the need to get some attention, and while the game can be archaic from a rules standpoint, they at least get the All-Star festivities right.
The skills competition is both unique and intriguing. Skills like the fastest shot, fastest skater (which also had a female professional participate this year), and a very unique skills relay race with shows just how talented some of these players are with the puck on their sticks.
But the uniqueness doesn’t stop there. The All-Star game itself is both developed, and played, in a way which makes it interesting to watch. All-Star teams are developed by division, not conference. There you have a 3 vs. 3 bracket style tournament with both East and West divisions battling it out for the $1 million dollar prize for the tournament winner (which equates to an extra $90,909 per player).
The league realizes no one will really be playing defense, so why not just open up the ice and let the skill players go to work? And that is exactly what they do. Defensemen are on the rosters, but if you aren’t good with the puck don’t expect to play much. Goalies are hung out to dry, but it isn’t about goaltending, but goals scored.
Players leave the game free of injury, the fans leave seeing multiple games with plenty of goals scored and the league’s best crop of talent on the ice at the same time.
I call that a win-win.
Let’s bring this full circle when looking at the Pro Bowl. Why do fans hate it so much? Because it doesn’t even come close to actually resembling football. Running backs are held up rather than being tackled, and there hasn’t been a hard hit in the Pro Bowl since Sean Taylor did this:
If a player did that Sunday in Orlando, I’m pretty sure the NFL would have them arrested in today’s game. In other words, it just won’t happen.
So, how do you fix this problem with the Pro Bowl?
First, scrap the stupid skills competition we witnessed earlier in the week and bring back the quarterback skills competition, etc. What I saw, which wasn’t much, was better than what it was just 5 years ago, but it could be so much better.
Second, as for how to fix the game itself, ditch the pads. The product on the field isn’t football, so why fake it? Put some flags on these guys, and let’s see some 7-on-7 play. In fact, to take it a step further, you could even take a page out of the NHL’s playbook and have a bracket with teams playing in a modified college football overtime scenario.
Is it football? Not really, but would be an improvement over what we see now. If it isn’t football, don’t pretend like it is. This is exactly what the NHL did, and their ratings have been rising steadily since the league has returned to NBC.
This from SB Nation in 2017:
The straight viewership alone went up 42 percent from last year, and the overnight rating — which measures viewership that occurs on the same day of the original broadcast — reached 1.6, also the NHL’s highest All-Star rating since 2004.
Viewership hit a peak at 2.529 million while the Metropolitan Division and the Pacific Division clashed in the All-Star Tournament final. It’s not a surprise either that the league’s biggest markets for the game were Pittsburgh (6.1 rating) and Buffalo (5.3 rating).
In 2018, the NHL saw a dip in their viewers while trying to go head-to-head with the NFL and the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but again showed a willingness to change and moved the game to Saturday in 2019. My guess is their viewership will return to form when all is said and done.
Not many love All-Star games, but it doesn’t mean leagues can’t make them more exciting. The NHL is ahead of the game on this one...