As somebody in their mid-30s I distinctly remember a time where not every Calgary Flames game was available on television. When I was a young lad, if you wanted to see the stars you might have to watch the All-Star Game. Nowadays, every single NHL game is available and so it’s easy for hockey fans to see the stars. If you’re an Alex Ovechkin fan, you can watch his every game no matter where you live.
In this context, how can the NHL All-Star Game maintain its fun and relevance?
First and foremost, let’s be honest about what the All-Star Game is. It’s not really meant to fete the NHL’s best and brightest. It’s fundamentally a party. It’s a collection of the league’s top names and most marketable stars in one city at one time, allowing them to hobnob with the league’s sponsors and media. It’s meant to be a hype machine more than an actual game, an event where the party atmosphere matters more than the results on the ice.
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When the All-Star Game is at its best when it’s weird, wacky fun – the John Scott year was awesome, as was that one year where everybody got hurt and rookies from the skills competition were roped into the main game to fill out the rosters. When weird, fun things happen, like when the skills competition is made unique and weird, or when the top women’s hockey stars are integrated to add a bit of life to the proceedings.
The biggest challenge to the party atmosphere is that everybody has to be invited – every team gets an invite, even though a bunch of the teams lack stars and so inviting a player from every club results in the star quotient taking a big hit. With the NHL expanding to 32 teams and the All-Star Game only including 44 players total, a lot of great players with amazing stories are left on the sidelines.
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There are a few ways to keep the party fun and exciting.
First of all, let’s expand the rosters. 11 players for each divisional team is a bit too restrictive. Let’s expand to 15 apiece, for 60 players total invited to the event. If we’re going to retain the “every team needs a representative” rule, this at least gets all the important stars involved in the proceedings.
Second, let’s also figure out ways to make the weekend wackier. Integrating the younger players from the NHL was so fun. Why not invite the leading scorers from the Canadian Hockey League or the United States Hockey League, or even just a handful of players from Central Scouting’s list of upcoming draft prospects? Same thing with women’s hockey: the NHL should work with with PHF, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey – and other groups! – to get the top women’s stars involved. Ideally, the All-Star Weekend should be a celebration of the best of the sport of hockey, not just “hey, here’s 48 NHL players.”
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Finally, get the fans involved with more votes. Let them select more players. Let them choose some skills competition events. Let them choose mascot events. Let them vote on the format. Let them vote on jerseys. Make them feel involved in the party.
In its current form, the NHL All-Star Weekend and Game isn’t must-see viewing. It’s harmless fun, but it’s skippable fun. If they can make some tweaks, they can make the party atmosphere more alluring and inviting, and make it more of an annual tentpole event rather than just a handful of days off for fans and media in the middle of a busy season.

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