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The All-Star Game is Bad and Gary Bettman Should Feel Bad

January 23, 2023, 11:44 PM ET [1965 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Rasmus Dahlin is not an All-Star this year.

That’s an absolutely ridiculous statement. Let me rephrase: The NHL has decided that All-Star Rasmus Dahlin will not participate in the All-Star Weekend this year.

That’s right, Dahlin has the second-most points by a defenseman in the NHL behind only a resurgent Erik Karlsson, while only one of the two Swedes will participate in February’s Florida festivities. This is largely due to the NHL’s outdated and unnecessary policy that every team must be represented by at least one player for the game/skills competition. With all due respect, and I mean all due respect in the Ricky Bobby sense, there is no reason that Dylan Larkin with his 41 points in 44 games, or Nick Suzuki with his 38 points in 47 games, should participate over Dahlin who has 52 points in 44 games.

It's patently ridiculous.

The Sabres have been the beneficiary of this pity policy before when Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo were elected to the games at various times in the past few years. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. Now, you may be saying to yourself: “Who cares? It’s the All-Star Game.”

That is a fair and correct thing to say. The All-Star weekend is largely bad and boring. It’s also fair to say that this isn’t an All-Star Game, it’s the “Best Player From Each Team (Some Really Bad Teams) Game.” The game has stagnated since it received a fun little bump when they decided to go to 3-on-3 action years ago, and the league has done nothing to update the format in the intervening years as the event has languished and lost more of its luster.

It’s obvious why the league wants at least one player from each team to participate: fans from Detroit or Montreal probably wouldn’t tune in to watch the game if they don’t have a horse in the race. While that’s a defensible position from a sales perspective, it is limiting the actual talent pool of the game and thereby invalidating its existence.

Now, there was another byzantine avenue for players to be selected besides the one-player policy, and the NHL, of course, made it stupidly complex for fans to participate in their system. Here’s what NHL.com posted about the selection process:

On Twitter, fans can make their All-Star Game picks by using the hashtag #NHLAllStarVote followed by the player's full name, or twitter handle or another hashtag with the player's full name. Only referencing a player's last name will not count as a vote.

Only the NHL would specify a hanging-chad loophole to disqualify votes. That’s perfectly on brand. Why not just have Gary Bettman decide who should be the #lastmanin instead?

Speaking of Gary Bettman, let’s talk about the job he’s doing elsewhere.

Tonight’s Buffalo-Dallas match-up will feature two of the league’s most underrated and under-marketed American stars in Tage Thompson (45 games played, 61 points) and Jason Robertson (48 games played, 64 points). It’s criminal how unknown these players are to the casual sports fan – and even to some extent – the casual hockey fan. Most NHL tweets regarding Thompson will generate more than a few “Who?” replies from the casual sports world, even though Thompson has now put together nearly two seasons of stellar play.

That’s on the NHL.

Gary Bettman is still taking questions daily about the digital dasherboard ads cutting off goalies’ heads and disappearing some defensemen into the Upside-Down during gameplay all while they consistently fail to market their rising stars. Shame, shame, shame.

Sure, it would help if Thompson, and to a lesser extent, Robertson played in bigger or more traditional hockey markets like New York, Boston or Chicago. It would also help if the NHL decided that the product on the ice could sell itself without the revenue generated by a digital Honda Civic driving around the boards at 60 mph, to say nothing about making players disappear:

Maybe some fans truly don’t notice or care about the ads. Personally, I still find them outrageously distracting during gameplay (even when they’re not cutting players in half) after four months of trying to forget they exist. It should also be pointed out that this kind of thing is not seen elsewhere to this extent. The NFL does not have a digital version of Grimace the McDonald’s Monster drinking an ice-cold refreshing Coca-Cola product on the sideline during game play. That would be ridiculous. In our NHL world, these obnoxious ads are merely an accepted inconvenience seen as a way to prop up the league financially.

The worst part is that fans who pay to watch this product through their cable subscription are paying twice to watch these games. Actually, no, that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that the NHL’s current product is perhaps the best it’s been in nearly 20 years and league management still has such little faith that the game can sell itself that they instead sell its soul for a few thousand dollars. Rather than try to entice people to watch the games, they’ll take money from advertisers and further alienate those who watch the games.

Have some faith in your product, Gary Bettman. Do a better job marketing your stars.

And yes, Mr. Bettman, Rasmus Dahlin is one of those stars, although no one tuning into the game in February will know that.
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