Why the NHL All-Star game will never be as entertaining as the MLB’s

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Hockey > Baseball. Don’t think I’ve changed my philosophy on that; such a notion is grounds for tarring and feathering in Hockey Falls.

But even I’ll admit there’s one thing that baseball can hold over hockey (other than financials and the whole National Pastime thing it has going): its All-Star Game. Tuesday’s 3-0 victory for the American League at Citi Field, which featured a hometown starting pitcher in the Mets’ Matt Harvey and a touching tribute to legendary Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, had me captivated from start to finish in a way the NHL All-Star Game never has.

Level of Play

The MLB’s version feels like a real baseball game, something the NHL will never manage to capture. Hockey is an inherently physical sport, meaning that in an exhibition involving the league’s most skilled players, the game has to be toned down to preserve player safety. That means no checking or playing the body, which translates into next to no defense. It doesn’t look or feel like NHL hockey and doesn’t capture the sport anywhere near its best.

Baseball players, on the other hand, can treat the All-Star Game like a competitive event without jeopardizing their seasons. As a result, fans get to see the best players performing at a high level, capturing the game of baseball at its peak. It’s the best hitters against the best pitchers with both sides giving it their all. The use of a whole pitching staff and bench only makes the game more interesting; it’s incredible the pressure managers face trying to give everyone their All-Star moments while also playing to win.

Uniforms

The baseball tradition of each player wearing his respective ball club’s uniform is fantastic. There’s something exciting about seeing a player from your favorite team representing that organization by wearing its colors. Meanwhile the wide array of different uniforms makes for a nice visual.

On the flip side, when was the last time the NHL put out decent All-Star jerseys. I mean, come on. These things are notorious for being hideous year after year. Having the players wear their own franchises’ uniforms wouldn’t work as well in hockey – where both teams are on the ice at the same time – as it does in baseball. Still, there’s definitely room for improvement by the NHL’s design team.

Significance

Baseball is a traditionalist’s game and traditionalists hate change. For this reason, a good chunk of the MLB’s fan base hates the fact that, as of 2003, home field advantage for the World Series has hinged on which league won that season’s All-Star Game. As a casual observer of baseball, I think it’s awesome. Listen to managers, players and the media talk about the MLB All-Star Game and you’ll see how seriously they take the outcome of the Mid-Summer Classic. If AL Manager Jim Leyland’s Tigers end up in the World Series, he’ll be thrilled that he led the All-Star team to victory back in July and same goes for the players.

Now by no means am I advocating hockey follow suit. The NHL All-Star Game, as previously stated, is not even close to being a real game. The worst thing the NHL could do would be to add Playoff implications to it. That said, without something to play for, the NHL can’t match the MLB.

Casual Fan Appeal

While I’m convinced the only people watching the NHL All-Star Game are hockey fans with nothing better to do – both because the game is on OLN Versus ESPN8:The Ocho NBCSN and because it’s just a terrible product – an All-Star Game should ideally appeal most to the casual fan. It’s the one game of the year in which an average sports fan might recognize the names of every player on both teams. But casual sports fans still want to see a competitive affair, something the NHL (along with the NBA and NFL for that matter) fails to offer. The the MLB consistently brings its A-Game.

The Olympics

MLB players don’t participate in the Olympics, but once every four years the NHL cancels its All-Star Game so its best players can play for their home countries in the Winter Olympics. Try finding me a hockey fan who prefers the All-Star Game to Olympic Hockey. It’s impossible. Who would rather watch guys half-ass it during a meaningless exhibition game than battle tooth-and-nail for a gold medal? It’s tough to care for the All-Star Game when the alternative is so much better.

So let’s just cancel this stupid thing…

Not so fast. While I don’t particularly care for the NHL All-Star Game, it’s probably a thrill for the host city and its fans, particularly those in attendance. Although it doesn’t compare to the Home Run Derby, the Skills Competition is still a fun opportunity for players to show off their skills that ISN’T THE SHOOTOUT. Finally, it’s one of the league’s premier events in terms of marketability and ad revenue (presumably) and might prevent the league from having to put together more blatant cash-grabs like the six outdoor games this upcoming season. On second thought, it probably won’t.

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