A Shot Idea
The once novel All-Star format pitting North America against the World ought to be junked
THE NHL concocted its North America-versus-the-World format for the 1998 All-Star Game as a prelude to the league's inaugural participation in the Winter Olympics that year. It was a nice diversion and a break from the longstanding conference-against-conference setup, but it should have been a onetime thing. Now that the novelty has worn off, this much is clear: North America versus the World is a senseless and unsuitable enterprise. The format detracts from the AU-Star Game's competitive spirit, discriminates on the basis of ethnicity and plays into the xenophobic stereotyping that the league has otherwise worked to eliminate.
What is a World team anyway? The Olympics pit clubs made up of players who share a national pride rooted in the social, political and environmental circumstances of their native land. Are we to look at this year's World team and believe that, for example, Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, a Swede, shares a bond with Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek, a Czech? Or that either of them feels a compatriotic love for the Panthers' Pavel Bure, a Russian? The lumping of players of disparate backgrounds—whose only shared trait is that they're foreigners in the eyes of the U.S. and Canadian executives who conceived the All-Star format—smacks of ugly Americanism. Segregating the talent this way betrays the global melting pot ideal that is one of the NHL's greatest assets. There are several tangible reasons the league should return to East versus West, such as:
?Despite outnumbering World players 2 to 1 on NHL rosters, North Americans get the same allotment of All-Star spots. Many players and coaches feel that the All-Star selection system is unfair to the majority. "A lot of great North American players get left out," says Leafs center Mats Sundin, a five-time All-Star from Sweden. "It's more fun when if s different conferences. You don't have to worry if you're the best Canadian or the best American or the best European."
?Players wouldn't have to compete against teammates. Body checks and blocked shots are scarce in any All-Star Game, but fear of injuring a teammate dilutes the game even further. You can bet World center Peter Forsberg isn't going to unleash a slap shot if North American defenseman Raymond Bourque, his Avalanche teammate, is standing in the puck's path.
?A conference-based showdown would give the home crowd a team to root for, which would lend energy to the arena and to the TV broadcast. In this week's game in Colorado the crowd's allegiance will be split because the Avalanche is represented on both sides.
?An East-West matchup would put bragging rights at stake and would provide a measure of a conference's relative strength. At a time when the balance of power so heavily favors the Western Conference, the East could earn some respect with an All-Star win.
The NHL is committed to the current format through next season. After that, scrap it.
All-Star Game in Europe?
Crossing the Unfrozen Pond
One way to capture the global spirit of the game would be to stage All-Star weekend in Europe every five years or so. This would showcase hockey's best to an enthusiastic fan base in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, and the NHL could do some good by earmarking a portion of the game's proceeds to the European leagues that feed talent to the NHL.