Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pens rule all-star voting; Ho hum. Take it outside


The fan balloting for the lame NHL All-Star Game is over, and Pittsburghers ruled the day. Forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury finished in the top six and were named to the game.

Two of those names are indisputable: Crosby and Letang, who was a write-in candidate. Crosby leads the league in goals and points. Letang is tied for the lead among defensemen with 27 assists, is fourth with 33 points and occasionally led all D in scoring. He's also a plus-20, far higher than anyone else among defensemen in the top 30 in scoring. Letang's defensive play has been even better than his offense.

Fleury's inclusion is both ironic and worthy, though he has not been the best goaltender all season. He got off to a dreadful start, resulting in many, many Penguins fans calling for his head and the head of his firstborn. Thus, the fact that he was the top vote-getter among goalies is really funny. My, how the fans of Pittsburgh can change.

That's because Fleury now has 17 wins (tied for fourth-highest), a 2.31 GAA (fifth), and a .918 save percentage that is still only 11th, but considering he once ranked somewhere in the mid-30s in a 30-team league, is still impressive.

Malkin? Shouldn't be there. His numbers are poor (14 goals, 33 points, not in the top 30 in either category) and he continues to display an amazing lack of interest in improving any of the weaknesses in his game (breakaways/shootouts, faceoffs, effort night-in and night-out.) He missed a few games with an injury but his numbers wouldn't be significantly better.

But you know what? Despite the Pittsburgh-heavy presence, I'm still not going to watch the All-Star Game. I used to love it when I was younger but now I don't really have any interest in it.

So here's an idea, and it's one I'm sure many others have already put forward: Play the All-Star Game outside.

In fact, replace the Winter Classic with it. January 1 is basically the midpoint of the season anyway.

Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were in this year's Winter Classic to get NBC some star power. Well, hell, what provides bigger stars and names than an all-star game? Let's get Steven Stamkos, Paul Stastny, the Sedins, Brad Richards, Eric Staal and all the other big-name "Too bad they're not on Pittsburgh or Washington" players all in one place. It would provide each of them some exposure and actually grow the game more, I believe, than build around only one or two names.

My biggest problem with the Winter Classic is the playing surface is just not conducive to good hockey, and I think that's been proven at least three times out of the four years of the game's history. Well, with an exhibition - which the Winter Classic feels like to me - the poor ice won't be as big a deal. Why? Because two points aren't on the line, so who cares who actually wins? Just go out(side) and have fun, and maybe we can get some snow. Have the players shovel the ice in between periods with snow-shovels like they did in Buffalo.

That's another thing. On my way to Heinz Field, it didn't feel like the hockey game was a) real, or b) the point of the day. And if any others felt that way, then why should we have a real game played outside? Put a fake one out there and we can still "celebrate the game's roots" and have all those carnival-like activities.

Plus we can put the game in areas where the NHL probably doesn't want it, like Colorado, Minnesota or St. Louis.

Two negatives to replacing the Winter Classic would be thus: The heated rivalry of a Pittsburgh-Washington, or Chicago-Detroit, would be missing. Two, would people watch a game that has no bearing on the standings?

Frankly, I don't mind the missed rivalry. I think Pens-Caps would've been far more entertaining if the teams were actually able to play hockey instead of dodge pools of water on the shoddy ice. The second question is the bigger concern from the league's standpoint, but at least experiment with the all-star game outside once.

What I know is I'm much likelier to watch an All-Star Classic instead of an indoor all-star game. I'd also probably be more interested in attending that instead of the Winter Classic BECAUSE I'D BE SEEING PLAYERS I DON'T SEE ALL THE TIME ANYWAY.

Does it make sense to at least have the all-star game outside, even if it's not replacing the Winter Classic? It does to me. Will the NHL make the switch? Of course not.

Maybe I'm an idiot. But hey, let's enjoy seeing Ovechkin and Crosby alternate the next five or six (dozen) outdoor games.

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