NHL’s Marketing Problem Highlighted by a Crosby-less All-Star Game

Photo Courtesy of Penguins Twitter Account

I try not to get too riled about the NHL All-Star Game and the Pro Bowl as both take place this weekend. They’re glorified exhibition games played simply to get the biggest stars of the game together for ratings.

But let’s be honest, neither game truly hits that billing. Of course, the Bengals and Rams are in the Super Bowl so nobody from these teams will participate in the Pro Bowl. The NFL’s move from after the Super Bowl to the week before is a justifiably stupid move. The term “pro bowler” in the NFL hardly has meaning anymore. There’s always so many replacements because of these happenings that it’s merely irrelevant.

My bigger problem, however, comes in the NHL.

I’m a fan of the way the NHL plays their All-Star Game. All four divisions are composed of nine skaters and two goalies. The games are played 3-on-3 for one 10-minute period. There is a three-game tournament to decide a winner. The winning team is awarded $1 million with the All-Star Game MVP receiving $250,000 for himself. That much is pretty cool.

The captains of each division are voted upon by the fans, which is ultimately a good idea. Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Nathan Mackinnon, and Connor McDavid were voted captains of their respective divisions. These four are unquestionably among the game's top-10 players.

Where my problem lies is how an NHL All-Star Game can be played without including Sidney Crosby in the weekend. Spare me the talk of how he returned from injury earlier on in the season and played below average hockey. He sits at 40 points in 34 games, good for a 1.18 points per game average. That average ranks 16th in the NHL.

At age-35, Crosby continues to amaze and play at a freakishly high level. And I’ve never bought into the “every team needs a representative” narrative either. Think about those years when the Pirates sent guys like Evan Meek as their lone representative. I mean come on now.

Consider a team like the Buffalo Sabres, winners of 14 games in 45 attempts. Their lone representative is Rasmus Dahlin, a good young player with 28 points in 44 games as a defenseman. They are an Atlantic Division team so they don’t really pertain to the Penguins.

However, Dahlin’s presence on the team is taking away from a team like the Panthers having more than just one representative. Florida currently has the best record in the entire NHL at the All-Star break. They should be sending more than just Jonathan Huberdeau to the All-Star Game.

In the Metropolitan Division, Claude Giroux received a spot on the team after Alex Ovechkin tested positive for COVID-19. Giroux was named captain for the Metropolitan squad. Philadelphia, winners of 15 games in 45 chances, should not be sending a player to the All-Star Game. Sidney Crosby was the best player in hockey for a decade. He’s still arguably a top-5 player in the game. How do you not put him in the game?

That’s not a knock on Jake Guentzel or Tristan Jarry, either. Both guys are more than deserving of All-Star nods. You can’t send the entire team and I get that. Guentzel’s 46 points in 40 games are totally deserving of an opportunity to play in Vegas during all-star weekend. Jarry also has some of the best goaltending stats in the league. He, too, should be there.

But Crosby not being there is a crying shame.

Another thing that has always bugged me, despite it being a rather small deal, is that the Penguins have never hosted an All-Star game as long as Crosby’s been in Pittsburgh. The Penguins hosted the league’s best player for 15+ years and the league couldn’t even grant Pittsburgh the chance to host All-Star weekend? 1990 is the last time the game happened in Pittsburgh, and 32 years is far too many.

While I’m not the biggest proponent of All-Star games, I’d have no issue spending the money to watch the skills competition. Then again to attend the All-Star game live in person if PPG Paints Arena held the event.

They’ll never admit it but the NHL has a marketing problem. They signed a huge rights deal with ESPN to begin showing more games on the network and streaming service. It has led to almost no extra exposure on their flagship shows like SportsCenter.

NFL Live is a daily show. NBA Today is a daily show. Baseball Tonight is a nightly show during the season when there is no lockout.

You know what the network did for the NHL? They gave them a measly weekly Thursday spot at 3 PM…on ESPN2. It’s pathetic how little the league tries to grow the game.

Look at leagues like the NBA and NFL. Of course, their social media presence and TV presence is what makes them so popular. Many non-sports fans could pick someone like LeBron James or Patrick Mahomes out of a lineup. Put Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid among a group of people and I guarantee you many non-hockey fans couldn’t identify who they were.

Baseball has a similar problem although guys like Fernando Tatis Jr, Juan Soto, and Ronald Acuña are finally making a push to become the true faces of baseball by showing a personality. Mike Trout has always been the best player but never truly the face of baseball because of his mundane personality.

The NHL does an awful job marketing their stars. Sidney Crosby not being at the All-Star Game is a prime example of that.