Arizona Coyotes enforcer John Scott is going to be a captain at the NHL All-Star Game this year and the league has no one to blame but itself. Sure, the vote was corrupted by an organized and highly-motivated group of internet pranksters, fueled in promotion by blogs, podcasts, Twitter and Reddit, but they exploited the league’s choice to make every player eligible.
The relative ease with which Scott, who has appeared in just 11 games this season and has one assist, was elected to the All-Star Game, is likely what forced the NHL to take a look at how they handled the All-Star Game fan vote. According to Elliotte Friedman during Hockey Night in Canada’s “Headlines” segment, the league will indeed make changes to the voting process for next year. What they'll do is not yet finalized, though.
Friedman noted that the league could decide to give the fans only a portion of the vote to select All-Star Game captains, or they could choose to provide a more limited list of players to choose from.
The possibility of taking away a portion of the voting power from the fans is hardly ideal. Otherwise why have it at all? The option of limiting the pool of who can be voted in could be more effective without taking the power away from the fans to make the choices on their own. Still, they'd have to figure out how that group would be selected.
The league has actually changed the voting procedure a lot over the years already, in terms of the number of players the fans are responsible for getting into the game. Just last season, the league had fans vote for the first six players into the All-Star Game, three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. They voted for five Chicago Blackhawks players and Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, who apparently had all of Latvia on his side. This year, fans could only vote for one player from each division and John Scott won the Pacific race.
The fact that the NHL has to continually tweak the format of the actual game itself -- now going to a 3-on-3 tournament format -- and how the teams are structured to generate interest may be putting the All-Star Game as a whole on life support as it is.
It also isn't a leap to suspect that participation in the fan vote this year wasn’t particularly high, leading to more questions about overall interest in the game. This is purely speculative since the league never put out numbers for the voting results, but perhaps John Scott’s entry into the game was because not as many people were voting this year. Not only that, but the format where only one player per division could be voted for made this even more likely. It took him almost no time to rise up the charts after blogs like Puck Daddy and the hockey sub on Reddit got a voter base organized for Scott. And for the sake of clarity, I'm one of the people that has no problem with Scott in the game. If enough fans didn't want him there, they should have organized a vote for someone else.
There are a lot of people that want to see the All-Star Game killed. Many of the loudest voices are my colleagues in the media, but the league won't. Not yet, at least.
The important thing to remember is that this whole All-Star weekend is meant to be a celebration of the game, but it’s also a major marketing and business event for the league. It’s a chance to get the stars of the NHL in front of sponsors and league partners and whoever else. However, as cynicism and snark reign supreme in the social media age, the customer (i.e. the public) is not as easily impressed by the actual product when it comes down to it.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the game itself is losing its luster. The childlike wonder we used to have for these all-star events, in any sport, has faded away. That is, unless you’re an actual child. The kids do still seem to like it at least and that’s still important, too.
But to the objective viewer, the All-Star Game has grown stagnant, which is why the league has made so many changes to its format over the years and rightfully so. The NHL is doing what it can to make this game matter. Keeping the voting power in the fans' hands is one way to do that on some level. Last season, the NHL collected 35 million votes from around the world. Yes, there were a lot of people voting multiple times, but that's fan engagement no matter how you slice it.
We’ll have to see if the 3-on-3 tournament format actually pays off in terms of generating buzz and interest, or if the cash prize makes the players any more competitive. At some point the league will start running out of ideas on how to "fix" this and perhaps one day (maybe soon) it will be beyond fixing.
The way fans view the NHL All-Star Game, or probably any all-star game, has changed. It’s allowed things like the internet-driven initiative to get an enforcer elected into an especially exclusive All-Star Game to have success. The NHL is wise to make some necessary changes to protect the event from becoming a complete mockery, but they may never be able to figure out a change that will make this game matter as much as it seemingly used to.