Toronto Maple Leafs: All-Star Weekend Needs to be Re-thought

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 28: Auston Matthews
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 28: Auston Matthews /

Only Auston Matthews and John Tavares will be representing the Toronto Maple Leafs at the All Star Game in San Jose this weekend.

As a kid, I watched Toronto Maple Leafs games only when my dad and his buddies had it on the TV after their own hockey games. If people asked, I told them I was a Leafs fan, but realistically, I wasn’t all that invested in how they did (a blessing in retrospect, the early years of this millennium were a painful time for die-hard fans). There was only one weekend per year that I really paid attention to NHL hockey, and that was All-Star Weekend.

I loved seeing the players act like people, with smiles on their faces and helmets off, wearing capes or making saves backward in the skills competition. I liked the flashy hockey that they played in the All-Star game.

But that was then, this is now

Times have changed. I care a lot more now about the regular season, and the league is making it hard to be enthusiastic about the All-Star festivities. Whether or not the game was better organized in the years of my childhood I’m not sure, but the way it is organized now is infuriating.

A few months ago, I was watching the performance of this team and thinking ahead to the All-Star weekend, thinking about how exciting it would be to see so many All-Stars representing Toronto. It seemed to me that San Jose would surely be painted blue and white.

Auston Matthews, who was averaging a point per game, Mitch Marner, who was posting even better than that. John Tavares, having his best season, Morgan Rielly, having a breakout campaign. Frederik Andersen, who was having the best start of his career.

All are among the NHL elite. Two will go to San Jose.

Ripped Off!

When the rosters for the All-Star game were announced, Toronto fans were treated to two surprises. One, that beloved Leafs superstar Auston Matthews would be the captain of the Atlantic Division All-Star Team.

The second was somewhat less exciting. Of all the elite players on the Toronto roster, only John Tavares would be joining Matthews in San Jose.

Morgan Rielly was eligible for the “Last Man In” vote, but ended up losing the race to Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner. How could this happen? Morgan Rielly solidified his place among the NHL elite this year, breaking his previous scoring record by halfway through the season and continuing on a pace that could break franchise records. Analysts across the hockey world have him pegged as a favourite for this years Norris Trophy.

Mitch Marner has kept pace with the NHL’s very best all season long, consistently proving himself to be among the best playmakers and remaining in the top ten for both assists and points since the first puck dropped. He has the most points and the most assists on the Leafs lineup and is only bested by Matthews and Tavares for goals.

Auston Matthews, Atlantic captain, shared his thoughts regarding his snubbed teammates with Kristen Shilton:

The conclusion: All-Star weekend sucks

It’s as simple as that. In all those fond childhood memories of watching the league’s best, one detail that I never remember is whether or not any Leafs were playing. For a long time, the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have anyone who deserved All-Star recognition, and if the situation were the same now, I wouldn’t be lobbying for more Leafs to go.

More from Editor In Leaf

One of a couple inherent flaws in the organization of All-Star weekend is that the NHL wants to include representation of every team, to make the event more marketable. I think it’s having the opposite effect. Many people argue that for the sake of the child fans, who love the All-Star festivities and want to see their hometown heroes on the screen.

I sure don’t remember which Toronto Maple Leafs were there in 2009; I do remember seeing Ovechkin score with Malkin’s stick wearing sunglasses and a hat decked in Canada flags. That’s the fun of the event: seeing the stars out of their element, showing a little personality and a lot of skill.

So if it’s not the children they’re trying to please, who is it? I think most fully matured hockey fans would rather see the most impressive skill in the league showcased than see the most impressive skill in each team showcased. Ryan O’Reilly just isn’t an All-Star. Not by this league’s standards.

The Leafs aren’t the only team being hurt by this strategy. Calgary’s Mark Giordano, another Norris favourite, will not appear in the All-Star game. Nor will Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point or Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who sit at seventh and tenth in overall points respectively.

Players Don’t Care?

As if that weren’t bad enough, even the players aren’t excited about All-Star.

Realistically, the All-Star activities are meaningless, and players are beginning to see them that way. This year, both Carey Price and Alex Ovechkin are opting out, favouring rest before the playoff drive over the league-wide showcase.

I don’t want the extinction of the All-Star game. I want to see it revised. Firstly, the policy of team equality has to go. No one, least of all the players, will take the competition seriously or appreciate its honour if the best players in the league are not represented.

Second, the prize needs to be redone. We all know the NHL can afford to dish out a little more incentive. According to Sportsnet, the current championship reward is $1 million, which comes out to just over $90 000 per player. To players whose contracts and endorsements bring in millions annually, 90k is small potatoes. If you want the real stars, the guys like Ovechkin, to take the competition seriously, you have to give them a reason to.

Next. Trade Deadline Roundtable. dark

I don’t want to see the All-Star game, a treasured tradition of my childhood turned into a joke. But I also don’t want to see the Toronto Maple Leafs, a big part of my life now, snubbed in the name of a marketing ploy. I just want to watch some good hockey. Who’s with me?

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