Feature image credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America
The NHL All-Star rosters are stacked. No one can deny that. There’s also obviously a lot of players who weren’t named who could easily have been. You can nitpick about who should be there (Cam Talbot?) and who shouldn’t(Jonathan Toews?), but even with some token trades, there’ll always be one story line missing: we’ll call it the John Scott factor.
Am I asking for a repeat of that? No. Not because I didn’t love it(in fact, I was one of the very few who supported it from the start). We shouldn’t have another John Scott because it would take away from how special that weekend was. Let’s let it live alone in hockey folklore.
What I mean though is that feel good potential.
I hate fan votes as much as I hate shootouts. They both mean well, but in the end they make the game kind of meaningless. In the case of the fan vote, it takes away from the integrity of an All-Star selection. In 20 years when we start running down career checklists, we may say so-and-so won two cups, had 937 points in 1245 career games and was named to the All-Star team 6 times. But if three of those were from fan votes, what does that mean to anyone when a guy who has 2 points in 38 games could potentially make 2 or 3 appearances as well because someone wanted to have a laugh? I think an All-Star game appearance should be left as a reward for a season well done. The NHL didn’t go about fixing this the right way, but you can see where they’re coming from.
But that leaves us with the original problem. With rare exception, the same pool of names will be offered year after year. The addition of the 3-on-3 format is awesome, but won’t be able to create a sustainable audience by itself. It will always be lacking that X factor. We need our Rudy Ruettigers and our John Scotts.
So I offer a possible solution.
Create a panel of legitimate but relatively unknown hockey analysts. People who watch a lot of games and really know the players but aren’t swayed by network loyalties. Get them to make a shortlist of 4 or 5 players per conference that could be classified as fan favorites or unsung heroes who are making a real difference in a particular season. Then let the fans pick from that shortlist. It limits what the fans can do, keeping it within quote /unquote bona fide NHLers, and also keeping the All-Star selection meaningful, but allowing for that story line, that reason to care for the average fan.
How important is Leon Draisatl to the Oilers turnaround so far this year? Look at Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg. What about T.J. Oshie in Washington, or Brendan Gallagher in Montreal, or Jason Pommenville in Minnesota?
Even deeper into the lineups, look at what Matt Cullen did for the Penguins last year. The team “dad” did everything for them. How about Joel Ward in San Jose last year? Or Troy Brouwer in St. Louis?
Every team has a locker room guy or a hard hat guy. Every fan base has that character they embrace that’s just as important to them as the point leaders and starting goalies.
An assist is just as important as a goal. A big speech, or buying a team dinner, or just giving the right guy a pat on the back at the right time, is just as important as an assist. Let’s make a meaningful place for these guys to be acknowledged and treated like the top guys for a weekend.