Just about every January it starts, like clockwork – the All-Star debates . Who got in, who didn't, who was snubbed, who shouldn't be there...if it's a part of All-Star Weekend, the media and the fans will find a way to pick it apart. And it's to be expected, it's in our nature to question and rank and defend the players we spend time and energy watching every night. There's nothing wrong with a little debate about which players can truly be considered "stars" in any given season.
One argument that also always seems to surface around this time, however, is that the NHL All-Star Game should simply be euthanized. The players would rather rest than play in a meaningless game, injured players never show, "true" fans don't like it, etc. – so let's just do away with it.
Forget the fact that just about every professional sports league has some form of All Star celebration. Ignore the fact that it's been a part of just about every NHL season for the last 60+ years. Certain people don't like it, so why doesn't it just go away?
There's nothing wrong with not enjoying the All-Star Game. After all, it's not a real game. There's no intensity, there's no defense, goalies get lit up and it's simply not everyone's cup of tea. The hockey purist in all of us cringes at the loose, free-flowing, non-checking style that seems like a distant cousin of the game we know and love so much. So I don't begrudge people ignoring the entire weekend and finding some other way to occupy their time – and to their credit, many of those who dislike or even have no opinion on the All-Star Game do just that. As with anything else, you have the option to just not watch.
For those of us who do enjoy it, however, the weekend is fun, and entertaining, and a chance to see some of our favorites (and perhaps a few less-than-favorites) in a different light. Sure, there's little to no intensity in the game – but there are smiles and funny moments and great skill on display. And at the end of the day, hockey is like any other sport: it's entertainment. Nothing wrong with taking a few minutes to acknowledge that it is, in fact, a game...and games should be fun.
If you've been a fan of the All Star Game in the past, this is what you remember and what you take away from the weekend – the fun. The scores may be forgotten, the exact rosters may be a blur, but you remember Owen Nolan calling his shot against Dominik Hasek. You remember Al Iafrate's record-busting slapper. You remember Ray Bourque’s last minute heroics and Alex Ovechkin’s costume and one of the most goosebump-inducing anthems ever and every time the great ones (or the Great One) stepped on the ice.
And in what other setting other than the All Star Game would you ever get a moment like this one?
The reality is that many fans do love it - and many of the players do, as well. It's cynical to think that a player with a concussion wouldn't play simply because the All-Star Game has become irrelevant; if they pull out because of injury it’s not because they'd rather be anywhere else but because reality has to take priority over an admittedly frivolous weekend.
But if you think players don’t enjoy it…well, let’s let them have the final word:
"I'm absolutely thrilled and honored. It's something you dream about to hopefully play in the NHL All-Star Game one day. To be able to do that is a great honor and I’m very excited." – Matt Duchene
"It hasn't sunk in that I've been chosen. It’s a dream come true." – David Backes
"Obviously, it is pretty exciting and should be a really good experience. I really don't know what to say. I never thought I'd be able to accomplish this, but it is exciting. Hopefully I can perform well." – Claude Giroux
"It's an honor to be involved and in the same category as the rest of the guys in the League and it's my first time and I'm very humbled to be there." – Mike Green