So... that skills competition
Where to begin with the skills competition. I guess by just saying it was really bad. Even grading on a curve with the understanding of what it is and who it is supposedly for, it stunk. Very few things worked. Very few demographics left feeling satisfied or entertained. It’s a really bad business model to alienate your die-hard fans without the potential of drawing any casuals in. Such is the NHL experience. Bust out the aluminum pole from the crawl space because we’re celebrating Festuvis early this year. In no particular order of grievance:
The NHL decided they were going to break up the events and just bounce around without actually finishing any. This kind of setup would lead to waning interest in the events even if they were good. Last night felt like a chore on what should have been a palatable empty calorie affair. At one point (I think in the first hour) the only action for over 20 minutes, commercials included, was Mitch Marner’s boring shootout attempt. You’ve already made the weird decision to not finish the fastest skater competition leaving viewers either perturbed or annoyed. Then you litter the broadcast with commercials and an uninteresting segment. You’ve also shown you aren’t going to do the shootout all in one chunk further annoying viewers. Really bad stuff.
ESPN had no direction to speak of. This broadcast was all over the place. None of their on-air talent rose to the occasion. It ranged from meh, to lame, to cringy. John Buccigross might be the worst on air tv personality the NHL has now. He’s in that special Pierre McGuire zone. Complete loser energy. The golf commentary? Yeesh. The cringy cornball didn’t even realize Nazem Kadri had won the accuracy shooting event. He was too busy doing whatever his Spanish McJesus thing was
While I think it was a must for the NHL to get back on ESPN so their sport is covered on the nation’s biggest sports channel. I also think you don’t need to bring back your TV personalities from the last time you had the league contract 20 years ago. As for one of the new personalities, PK Subban falls into the meh category. I feel like he was billed as the next up and coming media talent for the league. In practice, last night felt more like the New Jersey version of Subban than Montreal. He’s not bad, but just kinda there. The broadcast wasn’t going to function with the way they wanted it to go unless they got a star performance from somebody on the air and they didn’t.
The commercials were outrageous. If you’re going to have an NFL volume of commercials you better put on a product as interesting as the NFL. The skills competition in a good year isn’t going to hit that bar. This event dragged on and on and on and on. It is way too long. This thing should be a tight two hours. Instead, they had pre-recorded segments and when they went back to live programming they meandered and plodded along without action. Get to it. You should be ready to kick off the next event. Again, your on-air personalities weren’t good enough to carry dead time. Give us the goods. Instead, commercial, dead space, a nibble of action, and more commercials. People who wanted to love this event were turning it off due to the pacing and product.
Hockey culture struck again. For some reason we’ve gotten to the point where not trying is the cool thing for talented hockey players. It is a skills competition full of players who flat out refuse to show any of it. Aside from the tendy tandem event being weird in general those 3-0, 2-0, and breakaways were atrocious, like embarrassing even grading on a curve. Who is this for? The women gave it a go, but even then the goalies were bit by the too cool to try bug. How do you solve this? One of the few times a player tried it was Connor McDavid. He may not have won the event, but he went eight for eight and that was pretty cool.
The way I see it is you have two options. can the whole thing, which won’t happen, or you buck up. Tell these sponsors if they want their glad handing event they need to pony up significant prize money. Otherwise, take a hike and let these players go on vacation wherever they want.
They say this event is “for the kids” as an excuse why it isn’t good. Is it? The Miami Vice and Happy Gilmore references were for the kids born in 2013? The slow pacing and commercials is for the kids? Kids these days grew up in a society where entertainment options are immediate and available. They don’t do commercials, either. So the “it’s for the kids” argument falls apart when you hold any of it up to logic. If it were for the kids put the mascot game on. That actually has some entertainment value for a kid. What we actually have is an event not for adults or kids. A classic NHL self own.
The NHL had some prerecorded segments on the beach. I get why they would want to do something like this. I do think it is a real bummer for those in the rink. It’s gotta be so incredibly boring during the off-site events. Not only that, but it didn’t even work properly
It’s a taped segment, you couldn’t just get it to work and let MacKinnon get a second try? Who would have cared?
I like the concept of the Breakaway Challenge, but it is falling victim to the same issues as the NBA’s slam dunk competition. After a while the ideas dry up and it is tough to put on a compelling product. I give the players credit for trying. It’s a tough ask. Personally, I think they should lean into the actual skill more so than the gimmicks. Let players who aren’t actually voted into the All Star game to lean into the crazy moves you see random players pulling on youtube. Some of that stuff is unreal. Let’s see it.
If you were like me you were waiting for the big Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin collaboration. It was... sigh... fine. I get it. It is a real nice moment to give Ovie’s kid the spotlight, but also, you had the two biggest megastars of this generation working together and they really didn’t do anything. On brand for the NHL, again.
It does look like Sergei Ovechkin has the Nikita Kucherov move down, though.
Sergei’s attempt earned a perfect score of 40 from the judges which was to be expected. What wasn’t expected is what the rando judge did during Matthew Tkachuk’s shootout attempt. That dude went off script. Two of the judges had a 10 and one of them had an 11 which tells me they were trying to get Tkachuk a overall score of a 41 so the hometown player could win. This other bozo put up a 2 and it made for some awkward TV where everybody seemed like they were waiting for the 41 score to come in. A perfect result for the kind of night this was.
As for the celebrity panel... we know the NHL isn’t great at this, but you couldn’t get Jared Keeso or something?
Nick Suzuki won the golf event. He won a year’s worth of Chipotle as his prize...
There’s no need to complicate this event going forward. Stick to the staples: hardest shot, fastest skater, accuracy competition, breakaway relays, elimination shootout. Throw in the mascot game and keep it at two hours. Have it be a team competition again and pay the winners handomsly. Now you have a functional skills competition again instead of... whatever that was last night.
Thanks for reading!