All-Star Weekend’s Inherent Issues


The NHL All Star Weekend served its purpose but didn’t quite meet expectations (courtesy of Twitter)

NHL All-Star Weekend is held between the NFL’s Conference Championship games and Super Bowl Sunday. There lies the biggest issue with All-Star Weekend. If they went up against anything but the NFL’s all-star attempt,  no one would watch. The ratings would be even lower than they are currently.  While NHL games before the playoffs rarely get high numbers, other leagues are able to monetize and promote their All-Star game on a much higher level than the NHL. 

The ever-changing format has proven to the fans that the league knows there is an issue. In the last 10 years they’ve gone from the traditional “East vs. West” game to the captain’s draft and now to the division-based 3-on-3 tournament. Now, as coaches in the regular season have figured out how to play the 3-on-3 overtimes conservatively, the shine has somewhat rubbed off the tournament. 

The 2020 game averaged a 1.0 rating, topping out at 1.7 million viewers, losing the night to an NBA regular season game (Lakers/Sixers on ABC, 1.9 million) and coming in fourth out of four in major sports All-Star games. The issue here is the wrong event was on broadcast television. The tournament was put on NBC while the Skills Competition aired on NBCSN to an audience of 835,000. That rating rose dramatically from the 2019 competition but down from 2018. The skills competition has the fastest skater competition, hardest shot, breakaway challenge and much more. The best highlights of the weekend come out of the cable-aired skills competition. 

Now, of course, part of the change requires  the NHL marketing its superstars. But with big market stars, especially here in New York, it is not impossible. If the skills competition was seen as a bigger event, we could see Mat Barzal, Jack Hughes and Adam Fox racing against each other in the fastest skater competition or Ryan Pulock, Jacob Trouba and Dougie Hamilton firing slapshots against the other top defensemen in the league. But that is not what the league markets. They release the roster and allow fans to vote for the last player to play in the game but then arbitrarily assign these players to a skills event that might not even meet their skillset. 

We are beginning to see the change happen this year. Trevor Zegras of alley-oop fame did not make the Pacific Division roster but will participate in the breakaway challenge. Similar to the Slam Dunk contest, the NHL has now set the precedent that you don’t need to play in the game to participate in the skills contest. 

For example, Adam Pelech deserves to be an All-Star as he is putting together another great season as the Islander’s top defensemen, but what skill is he going to show off? They don’t have a poke check competition, so he’ll probably be in the stick handling or hardest shot and not even put up a fight. If they allowed the skills competition to be its own event with the best possible competitors, Pelech would be in the All-Star game and Barzal would be defending his fastest skater crown. 

This weekend’s events will begin on Friday night with the skills competition on ESPN and the tournament happening on Saturday afternoon on ABC. Here’s hoping that this year’s All-Star Weekend starts increasing the popularity of the skills competition by marketing the players who would truly be the best in them