McKenna: Looking for solutions to improve the NHL All-Star Game

The NHL All-Star Game should feature the best players in the world. But I’m sick of hearing every year complaining about who was snubbed or who doesn’t deserve to go.

It’s an honor for the players. A party. The All-Star Game is a fun distraction from a tense regular season.

But to call it a participation game, as Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon recently did? It’s downright disrespectful to the NHL and other members of the NHLPA.

MacKinnon might as well have tweeted “you suck” at fellow Pacific Division All-Stars Jordan Eberle and Adrian Kempe.

But here’s the thing. I understand where it comes from. It was an abomination that Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri – who currently sits fifth in NHL scoring – was left out of the roster.

MacKinnon was defending a teammate who deserved to be there. Fans agree. Kadri was recently added via the NHL’s « last in » voting campaign.

But it’s easy for MacKinnon to throw rocks when his team is loaded with talent. The Avalanche could easily boast five stars. Maybe more. They all make themselves better.

Imagine being Nick Suzuki in Montreal. He leads his team in scoring. But is there anyone else who really runs the game for their club? Not really. Especially not from the back. Chris Wideman leads the Canadiens defensemen with nine points in 25 games.

Colorado, led by prodigy Cale Makar, has five defensemen with 11 or more points. Makar alone has 37. Put simply: it’s much easier for Colorado forwards to rack up points than it is for Canadiens forwards.

It would be one thing if the players showed up and played tooth and nail in the All-Star Game. But they don’t. This is a glorified game of beer league.

That’s why I think it’s always important for every team to have a player on the roster. Cities and fanbases deserve to be represented not only in the game, but also in the skill competition.

Deep down, I’m sure players on poor teams know they’re just filling the field. But it’s always an honor to represent their city’s fanbase and give them someone to cheer on. Regardless of league standings, they earned the nomination by being the best player on their team.

I understand that there is probably no perfect solution. But something has to change. The NHL needs to find a way to showcase the best player from every NHL team while honoring the best players in the game.

You need a balance. And right now, with just 36 skaters (and eight goalies) selected from 32 teams, the system is broken.

I think the NHL needs to expand the rosters for the All-Star Game. I understand why each division is currently set at nine players and two goalies. It’s a 3 vs 3 format, so it works with three lines. The numbers make sense.

But are lines really necessary? Beer leagues have run it for decades with varying numbers of players. When it’s time to change, the player closest to the gate goes onto the ice. As simple as that. I think NHL coaches and players can deal with it.

One area that needs no change: goalkeepers. Eight is a lot. Although I don’t know how the NHL came to the conclusion that John Gibson was more deserving than Jacob Markstrom.

I don’t know what the magic number is for skaters on All-Star rosters. It may be 10 or 11 players per division instead of the current nine. Maybe more.

Being an All-Star is a big deal for players. It matters. It validates hard work and success. And while the shine tends to fade for the game’s elite players, who have competed countless times, being picked is such a treat for newbies.

I never had that opportunity in the NHL. Not even close. I never eclipsed being a No. 3 goaltender and fighting to be called up from the minors every season.

But I was chosen for the ECHL and AHL all-star games. Both times I was so excited to go. And those were amazing experiences.

That’s part of the reason why I don’t see the downside of expanding the rosters just enough to appease all factions. The NHL wants every team to be represented. The fans want someone to cheer on. And players want to be rewarded for solid play.

Including a few more players in the All Star game isn’t going to depreciate it. In a league with well over 600 players, what difference does it make if 44 or 60 players are invited to participate?


I hope the NHL learns from this year and changes the selection process for next year. Do the right thing. Reward the best players in the game while respecting fans in each market. They deserve it.

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