Every season, there's controversy about the all-star game--who gets to play, who gets to start, who got snubbed, etc.--and to be honest, I'm kind of fed up with it. So, in order to deal with my feelings, I've created a proxy of myself, a phantom NHLer, who expresses my sentiments on the matter.
This phantom NHLer, we can assume, is a deserving but generic Western Conference player who deserved to be on the team but was left off. He is not meant to be any specific person or play for any specific team, but could be one of any number of deserving candidates this year--or he could be, for example, a player from an alternate dimension in which the California Seals are still in the NHL with a roster of players that don't exist in our universe. It really doesn't matter.
But, this phantom player did have a lot to say about the NHL all-star selection process. This is what he told me:
So, I didn't get picked to go to the all-star game this year. Sure, I'm a little bummed out--it's a fun event. I know some of my team's fans have been complaining, saying it's a travesty that I didn't make the team; some of them even argue I should have been voted in as a starter. While I'm truly touched by the support (and, if I'm completely honest with myself, I know that my numbers are more than good enough), I'm also urging a little perspective. Guys, it's really not that big of a deal.
Let's get this out of the way first: the NHL all-star game is not about truly representing the NHL's elite during the first half of the season. It hasn't been for a while. I know that, and I understand that. Sure, it isn't "fair" that a guy like Alex Ovechkin won't get to be in the starting lineup, and it isn't "fair" that players like Steve Mason and Patrick Marleau don't get to go at all, while players who aren't playing nearly as well get to make the team instead.
But, my question to you is, "So what?" Take a look at a team like the Red Wings. The NHL's best teams--Detroit, San Jose, Boston, etc.--generally tend to produce the most all-star "snubs" because they often have several deserving candidates. This year, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk will be representing the Wings, but you can easily make the case that many other players--including Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg and Brian Rafalski--are more "deserving" that some of the players picked for the roster.
Well, do you hear any of those snubs complaining about being left off the team? In fact, do you even hear fans of the team complaining? Sure, Drew Sharp wrote in the Free Press that leaving Lidstrom out of the starting lineup was "insulting," but the truth is, many Red Wings fans I know have been saying they wouldn't have minded if no one from Detroit had made the team at all, preferring rest for the second half to an all-star appearance.
While I don't think I would decline an all-star invitation--like I said, they're fun events, and it is an honor to be there--I think these fans do understand that, in the grand scheme of things, this sort of thing just doesn't matter that much.
By the time May and June come around, nobody is going to care how many players you sent to the all-star team. Four all-star starters aren't going to mean squat to Montreal fans if the Canadiens can't get out of the second round. If San Jose or Detroit wins the Stanley Cup this year, no one in Anaheim is going to say, "Well, you might have the championship, but we had more all-stars than you!" Great teams and great players are not measured by all-star game appearances. They never have been, and god-willing, they never will be.
It's not like being left off the all-star team is going to ruin your season or irreparably damage your career. If Mike Green goes on a tear the rest of the season and wins the Norris Trophy, no one is going to say, "Sure, he had a nice season, but he didn't make the all-star team!" And, 30 years from now, no one is going to say, "Marian Hossa didn't make the all-star team in 2009? My goodness, he must have sucked!"
Now, if you're clever you might say, "Well, that's still no excuse! Just because the playoffs and winning or more important doesn't mean that the all-star selection process has to be terrible!" You might argue that, regardless of other factors, fan voting is still a mess and the NHL's attempt to have ever team represented is a slap in the face to deserving players and knowledgeable fans.
My question to that argument, though, is why? Why do you care? Why does it matter if some "undeserving" players get to go?
Goodness me, we're talking about one game here. And it's barely even that. We're talking about a game with absolutely no hitting. We're talking about a game where no one--not even the defensemen--actually play any defense. It's a game without any kind of passion, any drama, any strategy. Nobody is checking ice time to make sure the best forwards are playing 23 minutes.
Imagine this scenario:
Todd McLellan: "Sheldon, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to bench you."
Sheldon Souray: "What?"
McLellan: "Well, you've been on the ice for the last three goals against, and you barely even put on a body. I mean, Ovechkin just circled right past you and you did nothing!"
It's not that teams are trying to lose. It's just that nobody really cares that much about winning. Hell, remember how in years past, Marty Turco, Manny Legace and Rick DiPietro were wearing microphones and providing broadcast commentary ... while they were playing! Basically, a bunch of guys get to goof off for an hour, and in the end somebody gets a car. Nothing of what makes hockey compelling is even remotely involved.
And you're telling me that, somehow, the fact that Keith Tkachuk is going to this game and Henrik Zetterberg isn't somehow cheapens the whole process? That it's a farce if anyone other than the true NHL elite are invited? To this?
Look, the NHL all-star game is a meaningless competition and it always will be. You can't make it a real, competitive game without doing something unfair (like, for example, the MLB, and that hasn't even really worked).
It isn't about recognizing the best in the league. It's about taking a break from the homicidal regular season schedule, schmoozing with sponsors, getting a bunch of good players together and making sure that every young fan (the only demographic that isn't already dead to the all-star game) has someone from their team that they can cheer for.
We already have the NHL awards ceremony, the postseason all-star teams and, most importantly, the Stanley Cup reserved for the league's true elite. There is no need to approach a meaningless, drama-less, purely promotional game with the same amount of seriousness.
Because, when it comes down to it, what do you think is more important? Is it more important to you that an extra player or two from your team (or any other teams, for that matter) make the final roster of a meaningless exhibition that won't be a good game and you probably won't even watch, just because they deserve it? Or is it more important that a 9-year-old from Dallas can turn on the television, see Mike Modano take the ice and have somebody, somebody of his own, to cheer for?
If you chose option number one, I humbly suggest that you get your perspective fixed and try taking the most unimportant, unserious game in hockey a little less seriously.