The NBA had their all-star game this weekend, in Las Vegas. Since most of the readers here are hockey fans, I'll assume nobody here saw it. But it turned out to be a pretty good weekend for the NBA. It was fun, it was entertaining, it was everything the NHL all-star game used to be, whereas the NHL's All-Star was pretty much a flop. It turns out that watching a fat guy race an old guy is a lot more entertaining than a bunch of sanctimony about "who deserves to be an all-star". But there are some things the NHL could do to bring the fun back to their all-star game.
First, make the All-Star game a weekend event again. I know this would be pushing the All-Star Game back a lot, but make it the first or second weekend after the Super Bowl. An event just doesn't seem as important if it happens on a Wednesday.
Second, do whatever it takes to get the game back on ESPN. I know NHL has got a contract with Versus, but nobody watches Versus, and really, it would be the Versus' benefit if the NHL got exposure on ESPN. It's even worth paying ESPN to put the game back on their network. If it would help, I've got incriminating photos.
Third, make the skill challenge fun again. The real highlight of the NBA All-Star Game has always been the Slam Dunk contest. The NHL should transform the breakaway relay into their Slam Dunk contest. Encourage creativity along with just scoring goals. More people would watch if they could see stuff like this.
With the other events, have teams select their best players for each event so we can really find who has the NHL's hardest shot, or who is the fastest skater.
The other big issue with the NBA's All-Star Game was that it was held in Las Vegas. Las Vegas has made it abundantly clear that they would like a major pro sports team, and the mayor of Las Vegas, who is leading the charge, said they want "one of the big 4," meaning they'd consider the NHL as a major sport.
A few weeks ago, Kara Yorio, who covers the NHL for The Sporting News, wrote an interesting article about how the NHL should be the first major pro sports league to move to Las Vegas. I generally make it a rule to disagree with whatever The Sporting News says, but in this instance, they're actually right. Going to Las Vegas is definitely, pardon the pun, worth gambling on.
The biggest thing keeping Las Vegas from getting a professional sports teams are fears about gambling. I say that gambling is nothing to run away from. The two biggest sporting events in this country are the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament. Probably the biggest reason for that is that almost everybody, in some way or another, gambles on these events.
Also, gambling played a huge part in hockey in the games' formative years. Conn Smythe built his fortune after coming back from World War I by betting his entire savings on two hockey games and winning them both. It makes the game more exciting, and makes people want to watch.
Technically, Las Vegas is another non-traditional hockey market, which probably isn't what the NHL needs, but it is a non-traditional non-traditional market. The city draws 40 million tourists a year, and many of them have cash to burn and would love to view a live professional sporting event.
There shouldn't be any concerns about players gambling on games or throwing games either. Las Vegas, to its credit, has transformed itself from a place to gamble to a place to have a really good time. If somebody wants to gamble, they can just turn on their computer. They don't need to be in Las Vegas to gamble on sports.
There's a potential gold mine waiting for any professional sports team that moves to Las Vegas, and I think it would be really wise for the NHL to jump at that opportunity.