Three members of the Toronto Maple Leafs were in at the all-star game in St. Louis this past weekend.
I don’t know about you, but the NHL All-Star Skill Competition was mostly a yawn-fest for me. I was very excited to see (apparently best buds) Frederik Andersen, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews in St. Louis for All-Star Weekend. However, just like the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs, I was disappointed.
Today, NHL players are media trained for more than just scrums. They are trained on how to act on social media when interacting with fans (which the Bruins’ Brad Marchand might need a refresher on) and which cliches to use. Even Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is nicknamed Captain Serious. What the NHL has failed to do, unlike other franchises, is bring out the personality in players.
During the 2016–17 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs rookies (consisting of Matthews, Marner, Hyman, Zaitsev, Carrick, and Brown) brought a lot of personality to the team. They were actually fun to watch. Why don’t we all just sing Living On a Prayer? Players were allowed to show charisma and charm, and actually enjoyed each others company. Heck, even fourth line enforcer Matt Martin was beloved by the team and brought into the fun.
While All-Star Weekend loves to reminisce about previous years, recently they have seemed more like a money grab than a fun time. The on-ice interviews were uninspired, players seemed very cautious to not get injured, and Sharks’ Tomáš Hertl seemed to have the largest personality (which is saying something since Mitch Marner was also on the ice!).
The NHL is a business, I get that, but many players seem are opting for rest over going to the All-Star Game. Ovechkin, Fleury, Rask, Matthews and others have pulled out of the game either due to injury or wanting rest.
Players aren’t trying during these games because there really is little incentive. If they get injured, they are unable to play the rest of the season, the pay is small, and they have to wear terribly designed jerseys. What is even more damning is the punishment players receive for skipping the game is still not enough to make them want to attend.
This brings into the question of why the League is….boring. Why are players scared to show personality like those in the NBA? Those that do often show personality, like PK Subban, are heavily criticized. Heck, Don Cherry sparked the Canes beloved Storm Surge after critiquing them as well. What seems to draw ire from hockey pundits is beloved by the fans.
Why is there a gap between the NHL and fans?
One of the ways players interact with fans is through social media. Two summers ago, a photo of a disappointed Mitch Marner coming back from the 2017 IIHF World Championship was turned into a meme and picked up by other Leaf players. I very much enjoyed seeing players personality coming through during the offseason and reiterated that they enjoyed playing with each other.
Marner’s personality shines through despite players being heavily trained on how to use social media (especially since the Tyler Seguin incident). And while most use it merely for promotional material (Connor McDavid is not a good follow), the Toronto Maple Leafs use it as a way to chirp each other.
This is despite their social media team wanting them to embrace a “controlled atmosphere” and be more cautious. The NHLPA seemingly wants players more like McDavid who view social media as a future avenue for sponsorships. Every time a player opens up their phone, they have to worry about what they will say. In a TSN video, some (former) Toronto Maple Leafs veterans even stated they worry about what Mitch Marner will put on social media.
What I am trying to get across is that the National Hockey League is very worried about their branding, which is ironically negatively affecting their reputation. Players are so high-strung they are unable to let their real personality come out. I’m not arguing they shouldn’t be trained on how to use social media, but the NHL is coming across as out of touch with today’s technology.