If John Scott Scores, But No One’s Around to Hear It…

John Scott, Gary Bettman

I turned on the NHL All-Star Game just in time to see Kris Letang miss on a breakaway.

Then the power went out.

A quick word about my neighborhood: We’ve been fortunate enough to maintain electricity through many thunderstorms, snow storms and the like. However, a squirrel enjoying a bright, beautiful day two houses down could fart in the general direction of a telephone pole, and everything would shut down for 45 minutes. Or at least it seems that way.

(Ya gotta love Duquesne Light, right?)

Point is, I missed John Scott’s coronation, as well as the definitive All-Star image seen above: a very tall man posing with a very small one.

But did fate conspire against me, or did it do me a favor?

I’m grateful Letang and Evgeni Malkin had a chance to represent Pittsburgh in Nashville. Count me among the unperturbed that Sidney Crosby did not.

Still, that didn’t stop the Red Wings–of all teams–from getting their digs in:

Oh, haw, haw, haw.

John Scott has also now played in as many All-Star games as one of the NHL’s perennial poster children. Which, even accounting for Crosby’s injury history, is just as telling as the fact Scott was the one posing with the novelty check and the fancy automobile.

John Scott seems like one of the good guys. He seemed to say and do all the right things throughout his All-Star journey, and he seemed very deserving of that watershed moment he enjoyed with his family. In any sport, however, the long haul doesn’t lie. The long haul says John Scott is also a glorified goon, and that putting such a player on a pedestal not only undermined everything an All-Star game should stand for, but precisely illustrates the kowtowing to marginal players that causes most Americans to treat the NHL as a second-class citizen of¬†our sports nation.

Furthermore, it illustrates the antiquity of the event. I remember when All-Star selections were based on marketability and merit (or, better yet, both), not a bunch of wise-ass fans finding a willing participant in their successful plot to troll the system.

All-Star games were for a different generation in a different era, one in which fans jumped¬†at the chance to see elite players they wouldn’t normally get to see on the same field, floor or sheet of ice. My generation, witness to the dawn of the digital era, can see any of those players anytime they want with the right cable package and/or other multimedia subscription. Even skills competitions, usually the redeeming quality of the whole production, just aren’t appointment television for me anymore. I’m not Pavlov’s dog; I don’t salivate at the hint of Jaromir Jagr canon (sorry, P.K.).

I remember when they meant something. When¬†Pittsburgh hosted the NHL All-Star Game, it became one of the iconic moments of Mario Lemieux’s career. In fact, Mario’s first All-Star appearance, as a rookie in 1985, probably doesn’t get talked about enough.

Don Cherry, as only Don Cherry would do, called Lemieux “the biggest floater in the NHL.” Lemieux responded by leading the Wales Conference to a 6-4 win over the Campbell Conference All-Stars and becoming the only rookie to take MVP honors with two goals, including the game-winner.

“That game was for him,” Lemieux said after the fanfare had died down.

Today, with all we now know about the human body, as well as the increased physical commitment of hockey players to their craft, it’s just an obstacle in the way of necessary R&R, hence the frequent “injuries” that haunt the very¬†players we turn to All-Star games to see.

How do we fix All-Star games? I don’t have a problem with the 3-on-3 play that was introduced this year, but if the league is welcoming further suggestions, I’d advise looking to and learning from history.

Let’s examine the return of the North America vs.¬†The World format. As screwed up as hockey was in the late 1990s, that format brought a lot of intrigue and a lot of¬†offense. It started as a prelude to the NHL’s participation in the Olympics, and, coinciding with two Olympic years, it gave¬†both players and fans a nice pre-Olympic tune-up. In addition, that format produced one of the highest-scoring All-Star games ever. The NHL has since shied from playing All-Star games in Olympic years, but if this event is really about entertaining the fans, then it should continue to do what promotes offense, raw skill–the better¬†side of the game.

If only they could do it for the games that count…

Let’s also examine the fact the earliest All-Star games were charity games for the benefit of injured or deceased players. This would be the perfect forum for showcasing the great community work many of these players do. In the best of all possible worlds, the NFL’s Pro Bowl would be a game to raise funds for player assistance. Why can’t the NHL one-up them? At least have them agree on a couple of charities and give the winning team a donation. How hard could it be?

Let’s also examine what Major League Baseball did. In 2002, Bud Selig made the unpopular decision that the MLB All-Star Game would end in a tie because both teams ran out of pitchers, rather than using his power to bend rules due to extenuating circumstances. Fox, the All-Star rights-holder, pitched a fit to Selig because it was losing money on its coverage. Instead of doing the responsible thing, which would have been to tell Fox “caveat emptor” (“buyer beware,” for the Latin illiterate), Selig¬†did the Selig thing, caving and basing home-field advantage in the World Series, going forward, on the outcome of an exhibition game, without regard to the majority of participants and teams represented who had no realistic chance at that prize.

In other words, don’t do what Major League Baseball¬†did. Can you imagine how much more laughable the NHL would become if mid-season pond hockey determined the site of a Game 7?

There’s a reason the NHL has made All-Star games¬†as gimmicky as the one played Sunday. Just like there’s a reason the NHL is constantly putting them in Sun Belt cities like Nashville and other markets in need of something to draw out closet fans. Ratings were up, perhaps because of the new format, but probably¬†because of a story the NHL will try to delude us into taking credit for.

All-Star games still serve a purpose, and being invited, as a player, is still a nice honor. Nowadays, though, it’s an artificial honor.

For the real All-Stars, the real honors don’t come until June.

(Featured image courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images.)
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