I went into the weekend with hope, honestly. 4 Canadiens. In Montreal. There's something to work with here. But hope deflates as quickly as an 18-minute farce they call the Young Stars game. My enthusiasm for the skills competition quickly deflated to the level clearly being shown by those players being interviewed (I won't even mention the interviewers).
It's a shame, because with all the talent there – there must surely be a way to entertain a crowd and television audience who only turn up or tune in because they truly love the sport already.
All this got me to thinking. As usual, I feel that it is silly to criticise if one doesn't have anything better to suggest. So, I wanted to share with you some of my ideas. And I know you must surely have ideas of your own, imaginative and articulate as you all are...
The skills competition for me could be summed up by one quote (from memory):
JB: "Andrew how do you feel to be the fastest man in the NHL?"
AC: "Um, I don't think I am really. We had this competition in Edmonton and I lost..."
Andrew Cogliano was not an all-star (merely a second year Young Star – the losing type) and he was not even the fastest Oiler (apparently). So, what I gather from this is that he was the fastest guy from among the 6 who competed. nothing more, nothing less.
Isn't it obvious to the NHL? What is stopping them from actually inviting the fastest from the teams around the league? What is stopping them from inviting the people who actually have the hardest shots?
Each and every team could (if they don't already) hold their own skills competition. the results could be compiled across the league and the top 8-12 players could be gathered for a race, shot competition, whatever.
It would certainly add some cachet to the event – we'd actually be seeing the fastest players, hardest shots, etc. The winner would be the champion in that skill. It would give players who aren't all-stars a chance to show that they are stars in their given skill (Plekanec could take Cogliano, I think...) and make the event a real competition.
If I think of the only exciting event at any all-star competition, it would be the home run derby from baseball's midsummer classic. It combines the show case of a skill, with the suspense of the home run (something that is still hard to achieve). The NHL's equivalent (accuracy shooting) pales in comparison. There's no drama anymore since Ray Bourque sucked it all out.
But do you remember that Wayne Gretzky McDonald's ad? The one where he was betting Mats Sundin? That ad has some good ideas in it. Several shots could be taken from different places around the ice (including from the defensive zone a la McD ad). 20 opportunities to score as many goals as possible. It could be the NHL's own home run competition. The drama would come from the difficulty (obstacles?) and the players who battle to overcome that.
Young stars game
This part of the weekend is the most ridiculously boring of all. Even the NHL knows this, as they sandwich in between the skills competition in hope of having people watch – and keep the only truly exciting competition (hardest shot) until after this farce is run out.
It would be so easy to make this game better. For the sake of argument, I'll retain the Young Stars game. But instead of pitting rookies against second year players who couldn't care less, I suggest having the best young NHLers play the best non-NHL youngsters.
From a practical point of view, perhaps it could be the AHL All-stars (or stars under 25). Perhaps it could be the best from that Don Cherry/Bobby Orr game.
Pitting these two groups would hopefully make the bragging rights on reward worth winning. Both sides would be out with something to prove. Imagine – some of the non-NHLers could even win a job out of this.
If you listen to the game's biggest critics, they will tell you that the reason the game is boring is because it doesn't have hitting, fighting or, by and large, defending. They often miss the most important lack – the reason to care.
Think in terms of Montreal fans alone:
- In the regular season, there's hardly a moment of quiet
- In the playoffs, fans go home hoarse and not having spoken/heard a word to their friends on either side
- Last night, in Montreal, I could hear the players talking... (it was louder than last year in Atlanta, but not louder than a Tuesday in November vs. last place Atlanta)
The fans don't care as much because it makes no difference who wins. The players don't care either and it shows.
The solution here (I think) harks back to the past. The all-star team should play an NHL team. Obviously the ideal would be the Stanley Cup Champions, but it could also just be the host team. But there's a twist.
The host (or SC Champs) can make an all-star team of their own – using any player from the league (or still able to play) that has ever worn that team's sweater – ever (draft, game, practice, three-way trade).
Think about that. The Habs as hosts suit up this team:
Kostitsyn Plekanec Kovalev
Petrov Koivu Recchi
Higgins Ribeiro Ryder
Lemieux Tucker Keane
Teams with GMs a little more active than Gainey (wouldn't be difficult) would have even more choice. In Boston, you'd have Thornton back, Ottawa gets Hossa, Chara and Havlat. It could be interesting.
Not only would it give a chance to reconcile with players (Ribeiro, Ryder, Streit). It would make the game Montreal vs. players that would rather not have Montreal win. Irreconcilable differences (Grabovski), well those guys just wouldn't be invited...
To add to the stakes, I'd suggest a wager (paid by the losers – own cash) to a worthy charity (Chosen by the winners). $100,000 at least to make a dent and an impression. There could be a Cup too (why not?).
Finally, I'd move the game to the week after the Stanley Cup finals (which would be earlier without this current break).
Now we have a weekend to get a bit excited about... Whaddya think?