NHL All-Star Weekend 2012 in Ottawa has come and gone without a ton of fan fare, as it does every year. The weekend has greatly improved over the last two years, thanks to the NHL's brilliant change in format, but it's still not an event with the sizzle and the excitement of the Winter Classic or even the NHL Draft.
The problem with the All-Star Game is that we're never really sure what to mak of it. The theory is that by throwing the best players in the league on the ice at the same time, you'll get a wonderfully entertaining hockey game. You get intriguing matchups on occasion in the game, like the line of Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk that dominated for Team Chara on Sunday night, but when the players aren't playing as hard as they can and they're not taking the game seriously themselves, nothing truly matters from a hockey perspective.
If we want to watch true competition between the best players in the world, we'll tune into the Olympics. The All-Star Game isn't much of a hockey game, and the NHL needs to get away from even the smallest notion of that idea.
The reality is that the game is just a fun distraction. It's no good from a hockey standpoint, but it certainly can be entertaining, like when Gaborik snipes at his teammate Henrik Lundqvist or Claude Giroux tries to trip teammate Scott Hartnell (for charity) or the players run out of the locker room like little kids to sit on the ice and watch the intermission concert.
This is the part of the All-Star Game and the entire All-Star Weekend that the NHL needs to further embrace. Own the fact that the game is dull as rocks from a hockey perspective, but also own the fact that the players are just out there having fun. As fans, if our favorite athletes are out there having fun, we'll certainly watch if we can share in that fun with them.
Locker room access. After each intermission during Sunday night's game in Ottawa, Pierre McGuire would ask a few players "What'd you go over in the locker room just now?" The response typically went something like "Nothing, it's an All-Star Game, you idiot." But obviously, the players aren't just sitting around in silence during intermission. They're getting their pictures taken with Drake and talking with each other and probably having a great time.
After all, it is an All-Star Game.
So why do we have to treat TV coverage of the game like it's a regular season game? Why can't we get cameras in those locker rooms? Why do we have to sit there and ask questions about what's going on in the locker room between periods? There's no strategy to give away here.
As HBO 24/7 showed us, all-access is king, and when you have it, you'd be amazed at what you'll find.There's no intruding on the sanctity of the All-Star Game, so why aren't there about a million more cameras stationed the arena, including in those places fans never get to see?
In that same vein...
Mics on every player. The most entertaining portion of the telecasts on Sunday night were when we'd get to hear what was going on at ice level. We don't care about the game, and no offense to Doc Emrick, but I really don't care about his half-hearted call of an All-Star Game. That's not to say the announcers are meaningless, considering they're essentially our hosts for the evening, but why not give more air time to the actual players on the ice?
And why did only a handful of players have mics strapped to them during the game? Again, this isn't a serious game. If a player refuses to wear a mic during an All-Star Game, he's an asshole. There's literally no reason why he shouldn't -- or why he shouldn't want to, for that matter.
Give them all mics, tell the players the keep the cursing to a minimum -- live TV is on a delay, they can work around a swear word as long as it's not every other sentence -- and give us a real glimpse into what's going on at the benches and on the ice.
But it's not all about access. These two tweaks, I believe, would go a long way towards making the entire viewing experience more exciting for fans on television, but the game can use some tweaks as well. Remember, this thing ain't serious. So why do we have to be so serious?
No offsides, no icing, no trapezoid. When you play hockey out on the pond or in a pick up game, do you have offsides? Do you have icing? No, you don't. That's because whistles take the fun out of everything. Did you hear the audible groan from the Scotiabank Place crowd when Team Alfredsson went offsides early in the first period on Sunday night?
The play comes down the ice, it's a three-on-one, the crowd gets excited for the scoring opportunity, and then... whistle.
It's not a regular season game. It doesn't matter if they score or not. Let them play.
The same can be said for icing and the trapezoid. Let the goalies come out into the corners again in the All-Star Game. If Carey Price was chasing pucks into the corner with that mic on yesterday, and players were barreling down on top of him, it'd be hilarious. And if you think players are just going to ice the puck every eight seconds just because they're allowed to, well... you're wrong. That's just as much fun for them as it is for us.
Every year after the All-Star Game, people always talk about how boring it was and how it's time to scrap the event for good. It happens like clockwork, and it's become cliche at this point. But the All-Star Weekend isn't broken. It's actually a phenomenal event, and if you've had the chance to attend at some point, especially in the last two years, chances are that you enjoyed yourself and want to go again.
We get bored on television because we're not there experiencing the game and everything that surrounds it live and in person, and the NHL needs to do a better job of conveying the excitement that's felt in the arena and the city over through their TV partners. It's not that hard. All it'll take is a little outside the box thinking and execution.