The All-Star game used to be a highlight of the NHL season but has recently taken on less importance in the eye of fans and casual viewers alike. Several factors have contributed to this slide. To the average channel surfer, the game is much harder to stumble across than it was a few years ago. Instead of being a part of the NBC weekly Sunday afternoon hockey package, it is now buried higher on the channels list of most cable systems on the Versus Network. While most hard core puck heads have a preset for Versus, it’s not a channel most people come across on a regular basis. While. the folks at Versus produce a good show, the early dinner hour start time is not conducive to high viewership potential.
This year’s controversial fan balloting also did nothing to enhance the credibility of a game that should have the twelve best players in the game in the starting lineup. During early balloting, ballot stuffing by the hometown Montreal fans had all six Eastern Conference positions being filled by the hometown Canadian players. After some adjustments to the process by the NHL only four Canadian players made the final six, none of which other than Andre Markov rank in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference players. The fan’s ability to elect league poster boy Sidney Crosby and Penguin teammate Evgeni Malkin, the leagues two leading point producers somewhat legitimizes the final two slots. Not having Alexander Ovechkin, who I consider to be the world’s best all round player, in the top six is a complete travesty.
The Western Conference team is even more problematic. With three players from Chicago and three from Anaheim, ballot irregularities again reared their ugly head. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf is the only one of the six players chosen by the fan’s that would appear in a legitimate line up based on production. The Western goalie, J. S. Giguere, has had his worst NHL season this year and has been average, at best, in most games.
The primary issue with the All-Star game losing popularity is no fault of it’s own. The overwhelming popularity of the Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year’s Day is virtually impossible to compete with as a mid-season event and has basically become the “Super Bowl” of hockey. With mid afternoon coverage by NBC on a day when the vast majority of North Americans are parked on the couch, the spectacle of the production is hard to beat. In two short years the Classic has become such a marketing gem for the NHL there is talk that in the future it could be held in exotic places like the Las Vegas strip, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
The future of the NHL All-star game needs to be evaluated and will have to undergo adjustments in order to remain a viable entity in the world of NHL hockey. This year’s NHL All-Star game is set to be played Sunday at 5:00 PM (CST) and can be seen on the Versus Network. The game is being hosted by the Montreal Canadians to help celebrate the franchise’s 100th year of hockey.