Kajani: NHL is spicing things up

All-star games are one of the many fun traditions of modern professional sports. The idea is pretty simple: Take all of the best players in the sport, divide them up into two teams based on conference/league affiliation and have them participate in a game that usually has no stakes or bearing on the rest of the season. It’s a grand spectacle that is really a fantastic way to celebrate sports. So why then are all-star games so boring?

Most times, I watch all-star games to support players from my favorite teams, but catching a glimpse of one of your favorite athletes take the field/ice/court for only a few minutes of the whole game isn’t always riveting. It has almost become sort of an obligation to find the time to sit down and watch games that oftentimes involve lackluster play, or even indifference, from the players. Although I’m always excited to watch the games start, their novelty usually wears off faster than a Ke$ha song. Sometimes I don’t even bother watching all-star games because I know one side is probably going to win, as is the case with baseball’s American League. It really has been awhile since I’ve gotten excited about a professional sports all-star game, which is why I think the National Hockey League extreme makeover of their all-star game is intriguing and something that other sports should adopt as well.

For most professional sports, the all-star game is set up the same way: Fans vote in their favorite players in each conference as all-stars while the rest of the players are chosen by either head coaches or by the league, depending on the sport. This year, however, the National Hockey League is doing something that hasn’t been done before. Like always, the fans will vote for their favorite players to become all-stars. This time however, only the six players (three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie) with the highest votes will be voted in, regardless of their conference affiliation. As with previous all-star games, the remaining 36 players will be named by the NHL Hockey Operations department, bringing the total number of all-stars to 42 (three goalies, six defensemen, and 12 forwards per team).

Here’s where things really get interesting. Rather than have these players be on teams according to their conference affiliation, two team captains will be chosen by the players and a fantasy draft will occur where the captains pick players to play on their respective teams. That’s right, on Jan. 28, 2011, appointed captains Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom will be picking the players they want to play with just like we did when we were in elementary school. The first selection in the draft will be determined by a coin flip and the rest of the selections will continue on an alternating basis.

So what’s the big deal? It’s not like this new all-star format is going to put an end to players not really caring about the game or even change what’s at stake. While it may not change any of those aspects of the game, I do think that are many benefits that can come from this new change. For one, this new format will make the games more competitive. In leagues where there is little movement of star players going from conference to conference (with the exception of the NBA this off-season), the all-star rosters usually star the same players — barring the emergence of new rising talents.

With this new format, there will no longer be the problem of having one all-star team being superior and winning year after year as is the case for Major League Baseball (the American League has won 12 of the last 14 MLB all-star games). There will also be no issue of one league having superior talent in a single position as was the case for basketball when Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal were the best centers in the West while Jamaal Magloire and Ben Wallace represented the East (I know many of you are scratching your heads after reading those last two names).

Also, with this new format, the games will be made much more interesting. With the inclusion of a fantasy draft, there will some buzz surrounding how the team rosters will shape up, at least more buzz than when it was pretty much determined how each team would look. I know personally I’d love to watch a live televised draft of the all-star teams, looking to see how the teams shape up, who was picked first and who — for probably the first time in his life — was picked last. Not only that, but fans would be able to see teams that would otherwise never happen. Teammates could end up playing on different teams. Players who would otherwise never have the opportunity to even play each other in the regular season would be playing on the same teams.

Hopefully, if the NHL all-star game is a hit, other sports will begin to adopt their new format. There are some aspects of all-star games that will never be fixed, but this new format will give fans a lot more to get excited about. Hey, at least it won’t be as boring.

Raahil Kajani is a sophomore in Branford College.

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