This is the essential argument that the question of the NHL all-star game boils down to. One side would say that the game itself has entertainment value because it is a collection of the league’s best players doing goofy stuff, playing a game and having various skill-based competitions. The other side would say that since the players are at such a low gear, the product is so disconnected from hockey, it isn’t really a game at all. It only exists to remind us of the stars we don’t see and to promote the brand of hockey, to encourage us to be even more enmeshed in the sport than before.
The NHL game itself might be controversial with regards to its entertainment value but there is no doubt that hockey as played is a product and not a marketing ploy. Increasingly people are seeing entertainment from not just the 60 or so minutes of play but also from the interviews, media coverage and various other forms of coverage that the players receive.
The NHL all-star game is another entertainment product but it largely ditches the NHL game to present the personalities as the main product. Everyone knows that the most entertaining part of the games in recent history was the all-star draft rather than what the draft was for. And everyone knows that the most entertaining part of this year’s product was the on-ice antics during the skills competition and the controversy with regards to John Scott.
A 60-minute competition of adult men playing a game is no longer the most relevant entertainment component of the sport. In fact it is increasingly falling into the background. People are deriving entertainment from imposing their respective backgrounds on the sport. Quantitative analysts love seeing the fancy stats, managers love to think about the game from the perspective of the GM, gossips and socialites love the banality of a player’s melodramatic life: these are all examples of the transformation of hockey from an entertaining game into a platform for other types of distraction.
The best example of this is an artistically minded person I frequently watched hockey with. It turned out that he as most fascinated by the aesthetics of the jerseys and mask designs.
It seems that maybe 60 or more percent of the all-star game is a misguided advertising platform for country musicians. What the critical fan should know is that watching Burns wear a Chewbacca costume and let his son shoot the puck for him, or watching Gaudreau with a burning stick, these are now the real sources of entertainment.