November 10, 2010

The NHL’s All-Star Festivities Need a Good Visit to a Strip Club

"It's All-Star Weekend. I have to look the part: apparently that of a blind, elderly snowbird missing his seeing-eye dog and raising his arms in frustration."

To borrow from NHL analyst Bob McKenzie, if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig, albeit a slightly prettier one.

Now, when he spoke those words (or some version of them) on Tuesday night on television, he wasn’t revealing some sordid secret about his double life as a bestiality enthusiast, nor was he referring to the unethical testing of cosmetics on animals. No, he was talking about the NHL’s latest attempt to dress up the league’s all-star game in more attractive apparel.

As announced on Wednesday, the game, to be hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, will undergo a dramatic change, whereby captains voted by the players will select their teams through a draft-like process. At a time like this, the all-star game’s more memorable moments should be reflected upon. I’ll give you a moment to think back to your own personal favourite moments...


Well, that was a waste of a line.

For myself, maybe two incidents spark the greatest reaction: Owen Nolan “calling” his shot against Dominik Hasek in the 1997 game, which, while fun to watch, isn’t nearly that impressive as it should be humiliating for Hasek. What did you think he was going to do, Dom? Go five-hole? I get that Babe Ruth and North American culture as a whole is completely lost on you and you like to live in your own little world, but did you really think Nolan was pointing at the vendor 10 aisles up, looking to get his “food on” and reserve a bag of popcorn for after the game?

And then there was the game two seasons ago in which Montreal fans felt the need to stuff the ballot boxes to try and get six Canadiens voted into the starting line-up, which resulted in defenseman Mike Komisarek, with an incredible 11 total points that season, playing alongside teammates Andrei Markov, Carey Price, and Alexei Kovalev. Probably more shocking was that Kovalev took home most-valuable-players honours with two goals, an assist, and the shootout winner.

Clearly the puzzle wrapped in an enigma and shrouded in mystery that is Kovalev is finally solved: get him to play in a game that doesn’t actually count, and he tears it up. Because that’s what the all-star game amounts to: a nothing game that usually attracts two types of people: the casual hockey fan that is attracted to bright, shiny objects like the goal light going off time and again, and the rich who enjoy seeing their kind get richer when the MVP goes home with a new car for which they could pay using their last game cheque.

If the league is so intent on putting the all-star game in new duds, dress it up completely differently, how about getting it to try on the emperor’s new clothes, strip down, and reveal it for what it really is: a marketing stunt that isn’t aimed at the game’s actual fans, but one hoping to attract new ones. Considering the plight of the sport in a market like Atlanta, for example, where the game was played just the previous year, I think it’s safe to assume it’s not working out too hot. Or, for an apt simile, about as hot as the sport is in the Sun Belt states.

Now, I’m not saying the league should get rid of the game altogether, because it adds a healthy dose of credibility, but reinventing it doesn’t do a world of good when the inventor is starting off with the same spare parts each and every time. The breakaway challenge has been a dud, oozing about as much excitement as the latest Meryl Streep action thriller. The North America versus the World games, billed as this era’s cold wars, were exactly that... a lot of hype for nothing. And the off-year for the event last season for the Olympics was like a breath of fresh air, just like moving from Beijing to Vancouver was.

Still, let’s call a spade a spade here. The game barely adds any value to the league and changing it every so often takes away from that aforementioned credibility, to the point that outsiders might be prompted to ask: just what exactly is so wrong with the way that it was before? In word, “everything”, but it will always be “everything” no matter how it is played, but those potential fans don’t need to know that.

Wouldn’t you rather keep living the lie that it’s a very entertaining weekend that even its participants can’t wait for every year? Like a prom-date invitation accepted out of pity that you just can’t wait to be over, the players often treat being named to the game like jury duty. It’s something you have to do that you normally wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole... kinda like a pig wearing make-up. You just don’t know where it’s been, or who it’s been with...

... For the record, I actually like McKenzie, so please don’t take anything said in this piece as a sign of disrespect. I said he wasn’t revealing some deep dark secret about his double life as a bestiality enthusiast.

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