NHL coffers get filled by all-star tilt

 

There's one good reason to abolish the National Hockey League All-Star Game: It gives fans no sense of all the qualities that make up a memorable hockey game. Last night's 12-11 shootout win for the East was a perfect example.

 
 
 

There's one good reason to abolish the National Hockey League All-Star Game: It gives fans no sense of all the qualities that make up a memorable hockey game. Last night's 12-11 shootout win for the East was a perfect example.

Was it entertaining? Yes.

Was there a dramatic, crowd-pleasing finish worthy of a WWE script? Yes.

Was it hockey? No.

But there are 10 million reasons to retain the game: This over-hyped game of shinny produces $10 million in sponsorship revenue for the NHL.

Add in about $2 million in gate revenue - there are no $25 Molson Zone tickets for this game - and the league's share of the sale of overpriced jerseys, T-shirts and other souvenirs - and you have a compelling reason to keep the game.

But there should be more to the league's annual mid-winter break and we'd like to offer some alternatives, staring with the NHL Players' Association proposal that the break be used in even-numbered years for two mega events - the Olympics and a resumption of the World Cup tournament that was last played in the weeks leading up to the owners' lockout in 2004.

The NHL and NHLPA have already reached an agreement in principle on the World Cup event although there is disconnect on when the event should be played. NHL owners don't mind a four-day break in the middle of the season for the all-star game, but they balk at a 10-14-day break for the winter Olympics or the World Cup. But these events serve to heighten interest in hockey and whet fans' appetite for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There have been a number of proposals on how to replace the all-star game during odd-numbered years, but this would be an ideal time for an outdoor Winter Classic Game. Or it could serve as an ice-breaker in the Cold War between the NHL and the Russians. A game between all-stars from the NHL and the Kontinental Hockey League might actually provide a body check or two.

The value of the all-star games as anything but a cash grab is debatable. You can't say it helps sell the game in the city where it's played if you look back to last year. It was played in Atlanta, one of those iffy southern markets. If anything the game turned fans off, because 10,000 would be a good crowd in Atlanta today.

Montreal is a different matter. The game certainly doesn't need to be sold in this city, particularly at a time when the team is celebrating its centenary.

But there was no shortage of other items to be sold. There was a lineup to get into the newly renovated Canadiens store at the Bell Centre and the lobbies of the two downtown hotels that served as the headquarters for All-Star Weekend were transformed into bazaars dispensing official all-star memorabilia.

When the NHL sent out a warning about counterfeit merchandise, it suggested that if the price seemed to be too good to be true, the goods probably were fake. I countered by saying that, if you felt ripped off, you were probably buying the real thing.

The reality was driven home when Unite Here, a union representing textile workers, showed up at the Fan Jamboree and protested Reebok-CCM's decision to manufacture jerseys overseas, resulting in a loss of 600 Canadian jobs. The union pointed out the NHL Premier jerseys, available during the break for a fan-friendly $119.95, were produced in Indonesia for an average price of $8.19.

phickey@thegazette.canwest.com

 
 
 
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