The state of the NHL has never been more controversial, and this season’s All-Star festivities are no exception. After a weekend of lackluster events, culminating in the traditional All-Star Game, NHL fans have taken to the internet to voice their frustrations with the league and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Being the only commissioner in the NHL’s history, Bettman doesn’t have much history to fall back on, and thus is deserving of the negative press. However, in his defense, he has implemented some change that has resulted in positive feedback, like changing the All-Star game to a 3-on-3, 20-minute game, with each division having a team playing in a tournament-style format to determine the winner. Other than the Game itself, fans have had many problems that they don’t mind sharing with the NHL that continue to show the inability of the NHL and Bettman to better the professional hockey scene in the United States.
Fans were overwhelmingly disappointed in the Skills Competition events, stating that the events were “boring” and “mismanaged.” Even Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras, a competitor in the Breakaway Challenge in 2022 and one-time All-Star, took to Twitter to post his own criticism of the Skills Competition. Zegras’ comment was brief, a single “snoozing” emoji to be exact. His comment shows that even players were unsatisfied with the NHL’s All-Star festivities.
To add insult to injury, the lackluster ability of ESPN to deliver a polished and fan-friendly broadcast didn’t help Bettman’s case, another recurring theme with today’s state of the NHL. Throughout the evening, fans were treated to a disjointed broadcast with the events jumping between the Breakaway Challenge, Fastest Skater, Hardest Shot, Accuracy Shooting, and the new events of the year, Splash Shot, Pitch and Puck, and Tendy Tandem. While the traditional events were expected to be included, no one expected to watch the first round of Fastest Skater, only for the champion to be crowned an hour later into the broadcast. This disjointed theme continued beyond the Fastest Skater competition, as the Breakaway Challenge was another event that suffered from this “disjointed” system of competition. Going from Alex Ovechkin and his son Sergei’s heart-warming Breakaway performance to Sidney Crosby getting dropped in a dunk tank, the entire event seemed unprofessional.
There seems to be a significant disconnect between the NHL’s executives and the fanbase as Commissioner Bettman renews his promises to “grow the game,” while fans continue to suffer from blacked out games on TV, the small (and shrinking) viewership numbers across the league, and the NHL’s inability to increase their impact on the sports world.
In a time where Bettman’s seat grows hotter, and his empty promises take center stage, NHL fans deserve a better sport to enjoy. With such a diverse pool of athletes with incredible talent and skill, it should be easy for fans to watch and read as much from the NHL as possible. Facilitating the NHL experience should be the most major concern for Bettman and the NHL as they risk losing more of their fanbase with each decision the organization makes.