The All-Star Selection Process Debate… Power to the Player

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

All-Star games are intended to serve two purposes. The first is to serve as a means for recognizing the league’s top players, and the second is to be an opportunity to entertain the fans with an exhibition, and hopefully generate a little extra revenue for the league.

Where is it written that an All-Star Game has to be arranged so that the two teams are divided by league or conference? Yes, it is ONE way to split the teams, and it is an EASY way to split them, but that does not mean it is the only way, or the correct way.

One problem with that format is that it mandates there MUST be an equal number of All-Stars from each conference, which is not always the case.

The NFL this season is the perfect example of this problem, where the AFC as a conference is loaded with powerhouse teams, while the NFC has only one or two clubs that are playing noteworthy football. That is not to say that teams like the Arizona Cardinals (who have lost four in a row) are a talentless organization, but does Larry Fitzgerald (for example), REALLY deserve a Pro Bowl invitation this season?

Fitzgerald entered yesterday’s performance with only 42 catches (tied for 18th in the NFL) for 510 yards (22nd in the NFL) and four touchdowns (tied for 21st in the NFL), while AFC receivers like Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson, Chad Ochocinco, and Dwayne Bowe all have to compete for the restricted number of roster spots allotted only for the AFC. Compared to his AFC counterparts, is Fitzgerald truly stacking up as a Pro Bowler? I don’t think so.

Another issue I have with this format is that it makes it inherently impossible for us, as fans, to see how certain superstar athletes would match up against each other, or how they would complement each other if they played together.

Hockey fans can see Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins play together 82 times each year. Why do they have to play together AGAIN in an exhibition match that is intended as a reward for their individual performances on the ice?

Likewise, just imagine a line that featured a legend like Mike Modano at center, with Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin on the wings. Well, based on the “standard” format, that could never happen, since Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals are not in the same conference as Modano’s Detroit Red Wings, or Kane’s Chicago Blackhawks.

It is for those reasons that I am thrilled to hear about the unique new format that the NHL has decided to implement for determining which players will skate on each side of their All-Star game. Instead of restricting eligibility to geographic regions the NHL has opened it up so that All-Stars – as determined by a combination of fan vote and committee selection – will be randomly assigned to sides in the ultimate fantasy draft.

This is really the perfect format for establishing the pool of All-Star players, and determining the rosters for the game itself.

First, and most importantly, the voice of the fan will still be heard. As the paying customers for the business of hockey, they absolutely deserve the right to name which players will start in the exhibition game that celebrates the best in the league.

But where this gets interesting is in how the rest of the squads will be selected.

The first improvement made with this new process is that the remaining All-Stars will be selected by a league committee to establish a pool of 54 players, including 12 rookies. And although each team is guaranteed to have a representative in the pool of All-Star players, there is no restriction on the All-Star ballot by conference, which means that fans can vote for the best or most deserving players without any caveats. If the fans feel that the six best goalies in the NHL are all from the East, then they will have the opportunity to voice that opinion (and have it heard).

Then, from that pool, the players who were selected as the best of the season will get to be rewarded with a little control of their own. They will get to choose among themselves the All-Star captains, who will then draft from the remaining players to fill out their rosters regardless of which team they play for, and which conference they play in.

This new process adds a little gamesmanship – and a whole lot of intrigue – to a process that was previously a mere formality. Now, it’s not just about finding out which players were selected as All-Stars, but instead the fans will be treated to a fantasy draft that will surely generate copious amounts of analysis and water-cooler talk as the matchups and lineups are determined.

The new format will help stir up more of the players’ competitive juices by giving them control over which sides each superstar will play for, and will create a far more entertaining game and skills-challenge than has ever been seen in previous NHL seasons, or in any sport for that matter.

The All-Star game is not an outlet to determine something as important as home field advantage in the league championship. It is a break from the action for the league’s best to have some fun, and do what they do best – entertain the fans.

Leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB should take note, because this is one time where the NHL is the leader of the pack.

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