Jim Kelley
Thursday November 11th, 2010

Memo to U.S. President Barack Obama:

Dear Sir:

I know every year around this time you start looking for just the right bird to save in the annual President Must Show Heart and Spare a Turkey From the Cleaver event prior to American Thanksgiving, so I have a suggestion: don't bother saving the one that has the NHL and NHLPA shields on its overinflated breast.

You can't miss it, sir. It's a new one that looks like a bird but smells like a pig -- a porker that someone doused with perfume.

You will be doing all hockey fans a true favor.

-- Jim Kelley

Okay, perhaps I'm overreacting a bit. But of all the things that one hoped the NHL and the players association could come together on -- truly meaningful goaltender equipment modifications, a definite decision about staged fights, a consensus on safety with more player participation in workplace rules including a comprehensive ban on blows to the head, standardized rink glass, and ways to genuinely boost what fans truly want to see -- MORE PUCKS GOING ACROSS THE GOAL LINE -- this is the best they can come up with: a dab behind the sweaty ears of the All-Star Game?


The league and the players association jointly announced another format for the sometimes annual event. This time it won't be East vs. West, North America vs. World, or even that old school saw of talent chosen by an impartial panel of media. It will be a game of "pick-'em" with fans choosing the first six All-Stars, NHL Hockey Operations selecting the rest of the 54 players it wants to perform for its corporate partners, and a pair of captains chosen by the players to determine the two 21-man rosters before the squads take the ice in a form of televised shinny.

No offense to the NHL or the PA, but doesn't anyone see the flaws in letting, for lack of a better phrase, the inmates run the asylum? "[The new format] would be cool. It's a little bit different look than the East-West, something new," said Sidney Crosby. "It would probably make it a little more competitive."

I don't see how.

I mean wasn't it just two years ago in Montreal (last season being skipped for the Olympics) that the NHL had so many problems getting players to want to participate in the event that the league had to threaten the injured Crosby into showing up and doing some corporate schmoozing? The NHL actually suspended Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom for a game with the clear implication that they were playing up injuries in order to get out of the All-Star Game.

"The goal here was to give the game back to the players, put them back in that environment that they are comfortable with and used to," said former player Brendan Shanahan, who is now a league marketing executive. "So often at the end of practice, players are picking teams or dividing teams or even going back to their youth whether it was in their driveway or in the street playing road hockey.

"That was the concept to make it fun and entertaining for the players and let that hopefully translate to all of our spectators."

One might suppose that it could, but unless a good many players have had a change of heart since the game itself became meaningless, how does this new format make it any better? How can it even claim to represent only the NHL's best when the league has made it clear that it will cling to the hopelessly outdated contention that every team must be represented by at least one player during the weekend's festivities?

Even Crosby can see the potential for problems. "It would be fun, but it would be a little bit of pressure," he said of being named a captain. "Guys would all want to be picked. You'd have a pretty good pool to pick from, though."

Crosby may be making a mighty big assumption, one that history shows isn't necessarily correct. He's assuming that the "guys" will even want to be in Raleigh, NC, which will host this season's affair Jan. 28-30 while teammates get a brief vacation. And we haven't even begun to deal with the feelings of the last guy picked.

"Nobody wants to be that guy," Crosby said. "It's gotta be someone, but nobody wants to be that guy."

There are a lot of defenders of the All-Star Game, but I am not among them. It once had the role of showcasing talent and infusing some excitement into a selected NHL city, but the annual Winter Classic has come to overshadow it, and there will be two outdoor games this season.

In truth, the All-Star affair became a turkey once the players decided to stop competing and just go through the motions. It's still a pretend hockey game and this continuing sham, this turkey that shouldn't be saved, is on them.

Another NHL tradition, the one that says nothing ever truly comes to pass at a General Managers meeting in November, also took place in Toronto this week.

We told you last week that Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon's bid to have a coaches' challenge for bad calls in a game likely wouldn't pass muster, especially if the NHL would simply advise its officials to confer before making a ruling that might be wrong and unreviewable.

For years GMs have avoided early-season changes, and Tallon's proposal didn't even live long enough to carry over to the meetings next March when things truly get due consideration. The concern that coaches would use the flag (or misuse it) for an extra timeout seemed to defeat the proposition even before Tallon could make a legitimate case.

Ken Holland's proposal to expand overtime in an attempt to reduce the number of shootouts did get put on the March agenda. It will be reviewed then on an as-needed basis in that the number of games that have gone to the shootout have been reduced so far this season. If that trend keeps up, the proposal will likely be DOA in March, but there's a long way to go. Most GMs want to reduce the number of shootouts as a way of determining the outcomes of contests. My colleague Michael Farber has made a passionate appeal for keeping the shootout in place.

The GMs also looked at the impact of social media on the game, especially Facebook pages and Twitter accounts by players, but it was just a talking point. Most GMs don't understand the concept of social media, but were concerned enough by problems that other sports have with fans having access to players and players having direct access to fans that they at least brought up the subject for discussion. More is likely to ensue once GMs have a better grasp.

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