The All-Star Skills Competition Is Broken, Here’s How To Fix It
Friday’s All-Star skills competition was a chaotic mess.
It was a classic case of approving sponsor-friendly ideas without keeping the end-user, the fans, in mind.
And while this method is par for the course in the NHL, as evidenced by the mundane Retro Reverse jerseys and frustrating board ads, it was particularly evident on Friday night.
Confusion reigned supreme.
Fans in the arena, as well as those watching on TV, had little to no idea what was going on, an issue that was compounded by the staggered events that were stretched over the entire night, failing to create any excitement due to the lack of flow.
There were some new events introduced in an attempt to add a little spice to the weekend, borrowing from the exciting events that take place during the NFL’s Pro Bowl.
MUST READ: Nick Suzuki sinks birdie to win new All-Star skills competition event
On the surface, it was a fantastic idea. Not only would the NHL take advantage of the fantastic scenery in Florida, but they also added a significant dose of grandiose presentation to the mix.
But at its core, those new events ignored two crucial factors.
First off, NHL All-Stars are indeed incredibly skilled.
But their skill lies in shooting pucks at a net that is no higher than six feet high, not a giant surfboard that’s 60 feet away.
The players involved were learning on the job, rather than relying on the skills that led them to be All-Stars in the first place.
It’s also the polar opposite of relatable for most viewers, once again forgoing the most important aspect of sports marketing: keeping the fans in mind.
In a vacuum, the new events were relatively entertaining, but they paled in comparison to the events that focused on actual hockey skills.
If the NHL wants to keep integrating off-site events at the All-Star weekend they’d be wise to package the pre-recorded events and air them before the on-ice skills competition, thus avoiding the stilted schedule of events, as was the case on Friday.
Focus On Skills
Hockey players are trained from a very young age to forgo personality and focus on the task at hand. Asking them to step out of their comfort zone in the middle of the season and let their personality shine goes against everything they’ve ever been taught.
However, they have spent endless hours perfecting the speed and accuracy of their shots, not to mention their swiftness on skates and their breakaway moves.
Consequently, four events actually led to a certain level of excitement.
Unsurprisingly, they did not involve any of the newly introduced events.
When Connor McDavid took out all four targets with just four shots in the accuracy event, the arena finally came to life.
MCDAVID GOES 4 FOR 4 IN LESS THAN 10 SECONDS 🤯 pic.twitter.com/KCttTzEECW
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) February 4, 2023
The same can be said when Andrei Svechnikov won the fastest skater event, or when Sarah Nurse scored a great goal in the breakaway competition.
And there’s always the fan favourite hardest shot competition, which has lost a little of its flavour since players like Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara retired, but remains interesting for the vast majority of hockey fans.
What do all four events have in common?
They rely on skills the players in question have spent their entire lives perfecting, and thus, put their talent on full display.
We must always keep in mind the All-Star weekend is an event that is meant to provide a relatable situation for younger fans around the league.
By removing references to movies like Happy Gilmore, which was released 26 years ago, the NHL could do a much better job reaching the younger generation they so desperately want to attract to their sport.
It’s worth noting Miami Vice, which was also referenced ad nauseam, was released in 1984, 15 years before Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki was born.
With that in mind, the NHL should remove yet another unforced error: leaving the mascots out of the televised events.
Let’s be honest, hockey players may not have very much personality, but NHL mascots are professional entertainers.
They spend their year interacting with young fans, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
They’re also impressive athletes, which leads us to wonder why the NHL does not include the mascot game in the TV schedule.
It’s one of the most entertaining aspects of any All-Star weekend.
The mascots capped off the @UpperDeckSports Mascot Showdown with a little shinny, and it was wonderful. 🏒
Tune in to the @Honda #NHLAllStar Game TODAY at 3p ET on @ABCNetwork, @ESPNPlus, @Sportsnet, and @TVASports! pic.twitter.com/ehdRxgplh4
— NHL (@NHL) February 4, 2023
Hockey is a fast sport, but rather than leaning into the excitement and embracing the skills their stars have perfected, the NHL leans into sketch comedy and events that are designed to capture viral moments, only to be let down since viral moments must arise organically, and cannot be forced.
It’s time for the NHL to embrace the excitement they spend all season promoting.
Get back to basics
Focus on the skills rather than the gimmicks.
I agree with the premise of this article. I’m not watching any of the All Star festivities. The descriptions of the events were sufficiently nauseating. Our beloved sport is now all about money and gambling. Very little is being added to the fan experience, particularly those of us watching on television. I’m 76 years old and disgusted enough to change my viewing practice. I still want to watch my Montréal Canadiens so to add some interest I’m learning French with Duolingo, watching the games on RDS and TVA and following French speakers on Facebook. I’m tired of Toronto-centric coverage, Gary Bettman, endless gambling promotion, uninteresting matchups involving teams with little history and meaningless All Star antics that have little to do with hockey. 🎶Money, money, money, life is money in Bettman’s world🎶
I get that we want to make hockey interesting for kids. But that does not mean we should dumb the game down or turn it into a circus. Hockey is a beautiful game featuring speed and skill. That should be enough to capture one’s attention. The sport should be watched appreciated and absorbed like a work of art. Watchers should be educated and sophisticated enough to appreciate great plays. We should encourage folks to invest time – understanding that the game is about more than highlights, and 2 minute shifts. A hockey game is a symphony of plays, strategy, strength, speed, line-matching, and momentum shifts that requires one to pay attention – to spend 2 and a half hours to experience the grand totality of a game of hockey. We do not need mascots in clown suits, between period contests, or silly contrived skill contests to keep our attention. Play the game the way it should be played and be done with it! Oh, and cancel the all-star game. It is an embarrassing joke to true hockey players and fans.
I agree 100%.
Watched about 30 mins then switched to something else This is not hockey this is a farce
The current all star game is Harlem clowns on ice. After all these years, if that’s the best they can do, perhaps shut it down for a week, cut 3 regular season games and add the revenue lost from that into the regular prices. It’s going up anyways. That way, all the players get a break, the season is just a little less of a grind and the league doesn’t lose $..isn’t that the bottom line?
I agree! I thought the Skills Competition was a total waste of TIME!! WHO cares about hitting surfboards with pucks! WHO cares about shooting pucks on a golf coarse! AND who cares about the dumb antics! I want to see players exercise their actual HOCKEY SKILLS!! And I believe the fans do too! We want to see actual skills! We want to see skating skills and puck handling skills. We want to see real break aways not stupid antics the show nothing but silliness. We want to see 1v1 drills with scoring. There are a lot of things that could be done to make is more than it has become! What a waste of time the past few years have been watching it.