The NHL All-Star Game could be a lot of fun, but the austere soul-searching it annually inspires seems as serious as death. Every year, pundits and demagogues come together during the dog days of hockey to opine about its vast problems and merits. They hem and they haw over its importance, it's entertainment value, and how to get fans and players to take it seriously.
But it's never going to be taken seriously. Look to your left. Any game where that can happen is not a serious game. Despite being populated with NHL hockey players, it's not an NHL hockey game. It can't be, because guys get hurt playing NHL hockey games, and nobody wants to get hurt at this thing. As a result, everybody lightens up and, if we're being realistic, we're all okay with that. An injury during the All-Star game is as meaningless and preventable as an injury during a the tug of war at a church picnic.
People tell me it's a showcase for the NHL game, but it isn't because nobody can be convinced to play their heart out, and that's what every other game is for, anyway. The All-Star Game is a Star Trek convention. Yes, all your beloved characters are there, but nobody's fighting the Borg. If you're hoping for the intensity of the final frontier, you're badly mistaken or, in some cases, completely delusional. The NHL All-Star game is a sideshow.
I'm totally okay with that. Ignore the objections of the hockey Puritans who can't handle simple frivolity, and remember that sideshows can be a lot of fun. Why are we so insistent on players taking the All-Star game so seriously? As far as I'm concerned, everybody takes real hockey games too damn seriously. It's a game. Why can't the All-Star game be a moment of levity for all involved--a way to remind the fans and the professionals that, first and foremost, hockey is just a fun thing to do? Let the game be meaningless, and find a way to highlight fun and showcase the players having it.
So here's my proposition: let the NHL pick the 40 players that go to the All-Star game and announce the rosters a month in advance. Then let the fans vote on two team captains from among these guys. I don't care if they're both from the same team, either. Let it be any two guys. Then, let those players pick a charity to play for and put $500,000 dollars on the line (or some such other figure) if their team wins. Then, before the game, get all these guys onto the ice and let the team captains select their teammates the old-school way. Call a name, give him a jersey, let the other captain pick. Then let the teams play. Minimal preparation, minimal coaching, minimal austerity; just a fun game of pick-up hockey among the best hockey players in the world.
I'd watch that, wouldn't you? I'd definitely watch the guys pick one another. If Crosby and Ovechkin were voted team captains, and Ovechkin picked Malkin? If Henrik was voted team captain and he picked somebody else instead of Daniel? If Joe Thornton got picked last? Mic some guys up. Definitely mic up the draft. Let the players banter with one another, make bargains, argue over who picks first. Let players campaign to be named a team captain for the chance to support and promote their charity. Connect them with moviemaking fans who can make good viral videos. Do it all in the name of fun.
Yes, fun. Let it be fun.