The Forum: How Would You Fix The All-Star Game?

We all know the NHL All-Star Game is designed for two things and two things only. Firstly, it’s for children. Secondly, it’s for the rest of us to complain about.

We’ll complain about who got selected, or more importantly, who didn’t, we’ll complain about how boring the game is, how ugly the uniforms are, and how loud the cannons are (Columbus only edition).

When there is this much complaining being done, we have to ask our panelists, how they would fix the NHL All-Star Game?

Kyle (@kyleroussel) – I used to adore All-Star weekend as a teen. It was hard to catch stars from the Western Conference on a regular basis, and I’d salivate over the thought of seeing all of the greats from across the league doing what they do best. The hardest shot and accuracy shooting were the two things I’d wait days to see and we’d talk endlessly over who would top Al Iafrate, if he could be topped.

Over time, as the format was tampered with and players seemingly cared less, I cared less too. It’s now at the point where I don’t know if I’ll even watch, and if I do, it’s on as background filler, like Sunday’s game.

Is there a fix to an All-Star Game though? MLB’s is the only one with anything at stake, and it’s the only one worth setting aside the time to watch, in my opinion. The NFL held their pro-bowl Sunday? Did anybody know? The NBA’s all-star game is tolerable even though nothing is at stake there, either. If the NHL wanted the game to matter, the P.A. would of course have to agree…and would they want one more game where injury might occur to a star player? One more game to drain the batteries during an already interminable year? I’m pretty sure individual teams would abhor the idea, if not the players as well.

So if we scrap the idea of putting stakes on the game, I would then submit that the league could use the game as a precursor to the regular season. Have a big weekend to officially launch the new season by having a loosey-goosey game of shinny and talk about how great the upcoming season is going to be. Get fans amped about seeing names and faces before the games truly matter. At that point of the year, fans have been hockey-starved all summer and would probably welcome the all-star game with open arms, wouldn’t they?

Zach (@ZachVanasse) – My fix is rather simple and I believe it would fix many of the problems currently facing the ASG. I’ve been a big fan of the fantasy draft style picking of the teams and I think we saw this year how useful it is as a branding opportunity for the NHL to showcase their players’ personalities a little; even if personality is still a frowned upon character trait in many hockey circles.

Getting the players a beer in their hands wasn’t a bad idea either as we heard a bit of chirping and joking around. So I highly recommend keeping that aspect in place. But I say we take the competitive edge up a notch while also allowing the NHL to market some of their side products in the constant interest of “growing the game.”

Let’s let some random fans select the teams. Instead of Foligno and Toews selecting squads based on teammates, friendships and good natured ribbing, we would have a couple of random individuals choosing the squads with $100,000 on the line. As in, the random individual whose team wins the ASG goes home with $100,000.

Now here is what that is infinitely more interesting to me. For one thing, suddenly the players’ pride is on the line. When the random individuals are picking the teams, they are actually looking to pick the best player available so that they can take home the $100K from American Express or whatever.

This then also makes the players ribbing one another more interesting, as suddenly egos are being pitted against one another, and these guys are nothing, if not competitive (Phil Kessel aside). Plus, we get to comment on every pick the random individuals make like we really care and/or could pick a much better team.

I have to believe meeting an individual and having them stand behind the bench with a coach and $100K riding on it would make the players play a little harder than a nothing game with absolutely zero on the line (not even Conference pride, which I doubt is much of a thing to begin with).

The NHL could further use this in their marketing and ensure that the random individuals picking the two all-star teams aren’t complete idiots, you let the teams be picked by a the two people who lead the official NHL Fantasy league the previous season, or something along those lines.

So there. That’s how I fix the ASG.

Damon (@DTA23) -Just use the universal cure for the NHL of late. Make it an outdoor game. For one, you would have much larger attendance. Players genuinely seem to enjoy the outdoor experience. If you want to get extra gimmicky make the teams based on tossing sticks like you used to do at the outdoor rink. Yes, this could produce unbalanced teams, but then you maybe get Doughty having to play forward or Ovy playing D.

If you want the game to be more competitive then pay the winning team or make it a donation to a charity.

Invite PK!

Boom problem solved. You’re welcome NHL.

John (@CJohnCasselman) – I was fortunate enough to attend All-Star events in both Montreal and Ottawa. The fan fest, in both cases, far exceeded the entertainment value of the games. I felt that this was entirely consistent with the event in Columbus. The game was the low point of the weekend. In both cases, for $10 you gained access to the fan event. The event in Ottawa was held at the brand new congress centre, which had five floors of All-Star extravaganza. I brought our oldest son who met players, every single mascot, got to try on equipment, sit on the TSN broadcast set, etc. It was fairly priced, it was interactive and it was all about the fans.

Now, with all due respect, the game itself is not about the children. It’s about money. As a season ticket holder in Montreal I was provided the option of buying tickets to the game. Despite me having tickets in section 206 (Club Desjardins), my option for the All-Star game were tickets in the Whites. And oh, by the way, the price for the pair was over $1,000! That’s a major cash grab.

The consensus following the event in Columbus seemed to conclude that this was the worst All-Star Game in memory. Hockey can’t be played at half speed with no checking. Fortunately, I was at a QMJHL game so I only caught the final few minutes. I can’t imagine paying to watch the game or skills contests. Been there, done that. Never again.

Solutions; Firstly, abandon the game. The players are NOT going to risk injury so it’s only going to become more gimmicky. Replace it with a showcase event(s) that might actually grow the game. A top prospect game similar to the Subway series or Orr vs Cherry event. Secondly, have the All-Stars conduct clinics and meet and greets during the weekend. Children want to connect with the stars. Provide a platform for accessibility. Let the All-Stars help to coach the top prospect game and provide analysis (a pleasant change for the same tired group of sportscasters). I don’t mind the skill based event, but let’s part with the breakaway challenge. Focus on events that encourage the players to showcase skill. The breakaway challenge is so gimmicky now that it’s laughable. Have more players miked up. Can the NHL only afford one microphone? During NASCAR races there are often 10+ drivers connected with the announcers.

Create touch points. Each fan who pays to attend should have the opportunity for a photo and autograph. Again, the connection with the children will help to grow the game. But most importantly, ensure that the stars are in attendance. I have no clue why Crosby can’t show up. He doesn’t have to play if he’s “hurt” but there is no reason he can’t do the meet and greet, shake hands, take pictures, sign autographs, help coach, etc. If you are selected, you attend unless there is a MAJOR injury. Abandon having one player from each team. This isn’t house league hockey where everything needs to be fair and just. It’s an All-Star event, not an everybody participates event. Load up on the stars. If that means five guys from one team and none from another, so be it. Hard to be an All-Star event without Crosby, Malkin, PK and Karlsson.

Pierre-Alain (@PsaintLo) – What if the four major sports joined their all-star teams to make an all-sport contest?

Humour me.

We’ll have the NHL players playing baseball against the NFL. The MLB players playing hockey against the NBA. (7 footers on skates, come on, you know you’re watching!)

I know this would bring us way too close to Baseketball (horrible movie from the ’90s, for the kids out there), but in this era of crossfit, wouldn’t it be fun to see which sport is actually the most athletic?

Plus, as a basketball player in Canada, I’ve always wanted to show those hockey players who the real athletes were!

Ok, I’m done, you folks can discuss your “serious ideas” about how to fix a hockey game that doesn’t matter.

But really, which sport would win? Aren’t you a little curious?

The Forum: Hell Is Other Habs Fans

We all get annoyed with one another. It’s natural when everyone cares so passionately about a subject. Sometimes though, it seems as though being a Habs fan is particularly annoying when it comes to dealing with our fellow fanatics. Case in point, the often reiterated saying “Hell is other Habs fans” or in its hashtag form; #HIOHF.

So what annoys you the most about your fellow Canadiens supporters?

Kyle (@kyleroussel) – Hmmm…where to start?

The same people who cry about the blender approach to line changes are the same who cry when the coach (any coach) leaves things together for, what they think is, too long.

The same people who cry about the crappy powerplay and want the coach to do “literally anything” different (as I saw many people on Twitter demanding) cry when they switch to an oddball set up.

The same people who cry about the crappy powerplay are seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that they’re doing quite well 5-on-5, which is exactly what the key to success is. Further to that point, in the majority of the years where they had an elite powerplay, they were no better than a bubble team (with a couple exceptions, I’m sure). Now they’ve been flirting with the top spot in the conference for the last 3 seasons, not to mention a run to the ECF with a weak powerplay. It’s not a coincidence that a stronger 5-on-5 record is the differentiator there.

Ok, I’m done.

Dennis (@DennisKane) – Good points, Kyle. Although add a good powerplay to a good 5-on-5 and you’ve got yourself a great team. I complain about the PP on my blog and I feel it’s justified. What an added dimension it would be, especially come playoff time.

Kyle (@kyleroussel) – Not to derail the discussion, but the powerplay is important to a team’s success in the same way that dessert is important to a great meal. Nobody would go to a restaurant and walk away pleased with their experience if they had a cold, tasteless, crappy meal, but a killer dessert. I often come off as sounding like the powerplay is meaningless, which is not what I mean to convey. It’s just the cherry on top. As for the playoffs? Sure, PP opportunities are aplenty in the first round, but they start to fall off a cliff in the second round, and are rarities in Game 7s. We all know that by the Cup finals, you basically need to attempt murder to get called.

Dennis (@DennisKane) – And also, not to derail the discussion, but although penalties are called less frequently in the playoffs, when they are called, they’re huge. If a team has a strong powerplay and takes advantage at rare, but crucial, moments, it can definitely be the difference between going on or golfing. As far as the initial discussion about other Habs fans, I love meeting them in bars or rinks or on the street and talking Habs with them. I love seeing people wear the CH. I don’t mind that there can be disagreements. If someone is a solid Habs fan, I feel a bond.

Pierre-Alain (@PsaintLo) – For one thing, Habs fans have the tendency to derail discussions! Come on guys; focus!

But mostly, I think this passion and the omnipresence of the hockey club in Montreal’s culture is what makes the Habs fans the greatest fans on the planet.

Where else can you talk about the team in a freakin’ interview for a new job?

Where else can you use the puck possession of the 4th stringer to fill a conversation hole in an elevator, or worse, with a father-in-law.

Women, kids, nerds, hipsters, hobos… everybody seems to know when the Habs are playing. Did you know that emergency rooms throughout the province are almost empty during games?

The fun thing about Habs’ fans is that everybody in the freaking province is a fan… with their uneducated opinions and their ridiculous bias.

Now, Habs fans (and feel free to include me in this description) aren’t exactly perfect either.

1) We go from “Trade everybody” to “Ça sent la Coupe” within the same period;
2) We sing Olé, olé, olé, olé, before the game is actually won;
3) We have a tendency to piss off the other team’s best player with our stupid booing;
4) And we always pretend that we are fighting the good cause. We think physical teams like the Bruins, the Leafs and the Flyers are violent, dangerous and mindless, but we cheered to no end when Tinordi knocked Nate Schmidt out of the park early this season.

We are irrational. We are hockey fans, with the good and the bad that comes with that.

John (@CJohnCasselman) – Perhaps it’s because I understand and, to a certain extent, appreciate obsession that I relate to Canadiens fans.

Living in a hockey market like Ottawa you get the exact opposite feeling from the home team supporters. Folks in the Ottawa area are a reserved lot, unwilling to passionately broadcast their feelings. You can’t cheat fans in Montreal. When Rene Bourque played the first 10 games this season while stuck in first gear, people noticed. Although some might dislike the catcalls and couch coaches who pile on, I get it. In fact, being immersed among the opposite emotional contingent, I even encourage it. The Senators have burned through five coaches in seven years, have one playoff series victory in what will be an eighth year under Bryan Murray’s leadership, yet the fans are satisfied with the results. Sure, the scrutiny of coach Therien, who has amassed one of the top regular season records since the most recent lockout, can be tiring, but in hockey, as in life, a little knowledge can be dangerous.

Having had the pleasure of travelling to 21 different NHL arenas I’ve experienced fan feedback in many different formats. It ranges from the non existent (Atlanta), where offsides and icings were announced over the PA, to the emotionally charged at Excel Energy arena in St. Paul. Hockey is enjoyed by both the casual fan and hockey fanatic. The flames are fanned in media outlets were coverage is available on multiple platforms, none greater than those available to fans of the Montreal Canadiens.

Although fans of the Montreal Canadiens might be resented, they really ought to be thanked. It’s on their backs, on their dollars, that the league continues to thrive. Those caps, sweaters, jerseys, t-shirts, tickets, etc., that these fans purchase, enable the continuation of hockey in markets such as Florida, Carolina and Arizona. Sure, nobody likes a loud mouth know it all, but, if the shoe fits, wear it PROUDLY.

Go Habs Go!

Sean (@TheONeillFactor) – Let’s leave aside for the time being the identity-politics zealots who want all twenty roster spots filled by direct descendants of les filles du roi, the frat-boy anarchists who think a first round win over the Bruins necessitates a molotov cocktail through a storefront window, and the pearl-clutching alarmists who have 911 on speed-dial every time Zdeno Chara throws an elbow.

It’s not that the loonies aren’t *real* Habs fans – they probably are – it’s just that their particular brands of fanaticism are so asinine that I usually find myself not giving a shit. They’re one of us, but they’re not REALLY one of us, right? (RIGHT?).

Insanity amongst the seemingly well-adjusted is far more grating. We run decent men and decent players out of town and then act as if the Montreal pressure-cooker is a blessing and not a curse. We gobble up every bit of nostalgia shoved down our throat by the front office and are often far too happy to look backwards instead of forwards. We nod along solemnly as the Antichambre talking heads audition for the role of Quebec’s Skip Bayless (I take it back, no well-adjusted person watches Antichambre).

Damon (@DTA23) – I think we can all agree that the worst possible fan is – and this not exclusive to Habs fans – the playoff bandwagon fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love the enthusiasm that sweeps up the city when the Habs make a playoff run, but I hate the individual bandwagonners themselves.

You all have the guy or girl at work that doesn’t mention the Habs once during the 82-game schedule, but once the playoffs hit they become experts on what the Habs need to do to beat Team X.

I hate them because they have nothing at stake. If the Habs win they can celebrate, but if the Habs lose they don’t feel that true pain that a fan feels when a playoff exit happens.

Zach (@ZachVanasse) – It’s a mix bag, isn’t it? Like any religion, Habs fandom has its factions. The orthodox pure lain gang, the obsessives, the use-it-as-an-excuse-for-violence group, the casual observers, the “they’re out to get us” conspiracy theorists group, etc.

And we all have the tendency to find issue with those that don’t worship in the way we do. It’s interesting that Damon brings up the bandwagon gang, as Sean and I discussed bandwagon fans on The Two-Four podcast this past weekend and decided that maybe we need to cut them so slack. It might be healthy not to be obsessed.

On the other hand, Damon’s right. Nothing annoys me more than having to listen to the uninformed spout mindless opinions and while I have to remain polite about the whole thing. Let’s be honest, the absurd Price v. Halak debate really stemmed from this divide.

For me, that’s the sect that probably gets under my skin the most. As is made obvious by my participation in this and the podcast, I love the (intelligent-ish) discussion that comes with being a Habs fan. So when I run into someone who is quite proudly displaying a healthy dose of ignorance, it frustrates me and then aggravates me.

I don’t want to hear about how good you think Rene Bourque is because he scored a handful of goals in round one of the playoffs last season. I don’t want to hear your tired explanation that Subban “needs to be more responsible with the puck” because you heard some other ignoramus say it.

So while I think not being fanatical about the Habs is definitely healthy, don’t ask me to suffer your ignorance when you want to join the parade. Let me tell you how it is. I’m pretty sure I’ve decided that’s what I’m here for.

You’re welcome.