What to do with the NHL All-Star Game?

This weekend the city of Columbus, Ohio will host the 2015 NHL All Star Game. The event spans three days starting with the NHL All Star Fantasy Draft on Friday January 23rd at 8pm ET. The draft has captains Jonathan Toews and Nick Foligno picking from the group of players that have been selected for the ASG.  Toews is joined by assistants Ryan Getzlaf and Rick Nash, while Foligno is joined by Patrick Kane and Drew Doughty. This is a fun event for the players and fans alike, where the main objective for the remaining 36 players is not to be selected last as Phil Kessel was a couple years back, which he has not been able to shake to this day.

This year’s event also features 6 rookies (Johnny Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad, Jiri Sekac, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, and Filip Forsberg), who will only compete in the Skills competition on Saturday. Another interesting component this year is there will be fan voting via Twitter for the Breakaway Challenge.

The player selection process can be controversial to say the least and this year is no exception. The first six players selected are voted by the fans. Five of these players are from the Chicago Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook). Each of these players received between 1-1.2M votes, meaning Chicago fans went online and voted. The player with the highest number of votes (1.5M) is Sabres’ center Zemgus Girgensons, from Lativia. Zemgus is a popular player, but he his 120th in league scoring, so he made the team pretty much because Latvian and Buffalo fans went online and placed their votes. 

After the fan vote, the league then selects 36 players and if we take into account that they chose 3 players from the Blue Jackets to represent the host city, it meant they had to pick 33 players from 27 different teams. After that there’s the obvious duo of forwards who are in the top 11 in NHL: Malkin / Crosby (neither of them will take part in the game because of injuries but both were originally selected), Voracek / Giroux and Johnson / Stamkos. Finally there’s the Nashville duo Rinne/Weber who both dominate at their respective position and finally Vladimir Tarasenko (9th in scoring) and Kevin Shattenkirk (2nd among defensemen in scoring). Once you put all that together, the only other two players who came from the same team are Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty from the Los Angeles Kings. Could either of those have been replaced by Nicklas Backstrom (10th in scoring), Henrik Zetterberg (14th), Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban? Probably, but you could argue for or against anyone of those guys.

This leads to the next questions: is it really pertinent to have one player from every team and is the fan voting really necessary? If the purpose is to showcase talent, the best players should be there no matter what team they play for. If the purpose is to get the highest audience, I think there’d be much better ratings if Backstrom, Zetterberg, Subban and Datsyuk had been there instead of names like Justin Faulk, Erik Johnson, Patrik Elias and Zemgus Girgensons. The other option would be to take out fan voting which would have allowed the league to remove a few Chicago Blackhawks players from the roster and add a second player, from other teams, who may be more deserving. You thought the league would have done this back in 2007 after Rory Fitzpatrick was 24,000 votes shy of being voted into the game. I know it’s a way to give fans a say but the voting system just doesn't work. It’s time to move on and try to give a better show to those who just want to watch the game and don’t take the time to vote hundreds of times for their favourite team’s players.

The all-star games in pretty much every major sport are becoming less and less popular except the NHL. The MLB’s attempt to make the game matter hasn't done anything for TV ratings and the NFL’s attempt to move the game or add a fantasy draft hasn't worked either. I don’t think a major change is needed, the all-star game is meant to see the best players showcase their talent so I think the only tweaking that needs to be done is to make sure the best players are there.