The difference between an all-star and playing in the All-Star Game

A look at the NHL All-Star game from its beginnings when it was the Cup champions vs the rest of the league, to its newest, four division, 3-on-3 format and everything in between.

Have you ever looked through the dictionary and found a word – the same word – that has two different definitions? Yes? No? Well, I have one for you.  

That word is “all-star.”

As the NHL prepares for the All-Star Game break, it’s time to come clean. Just because you play in an All-Star Game, you aren’t necessarily an all-star. That’s not to be critical of any of the participants of the event in Nashville. The combination of the ballot-stuffing popularity contest and a requirement that all 30 teams have a representative makes the mid-season celebration version of an all-star totally different than that of the all-star teams voted on by the PHWA at the end of the season.

There was a time when it meant something to be an all-star at the end of the season. In the pre-salary cap era, being an all-star might have meant more money in contract bonuses. But that wasn’t because of the All-Star Game. It was because you were voted to the first- or second-all-star teams at the end of the season, following the judgement of a full season of work.

It also meant you were the first- or second-best player in hockey at your position. You were one of 12 players out of 700 to be selected for the truly great honour.

Watch the skills competition | All-Star Weekend Hub | Broadcast Schedule

For many, talking about the All-Star Game and all-star teams have become synonymous, but they aren’t. One is ceremonial, the other is an award. Over the past 30 years, the hockey community has turned its back on the all-star teams, and become hyper-focussed on the ceremony of the All-Star Game.  And that’s really too bad.

So why have we forgotten the true definition of all-star? Why do we seem consumed with the game and less with the teams?

Is it because the party in Nashville is more fun than picking 12 names at the end of the season? Perhaps.

Is it because we are too tired of hockey and its awards by mid-June to pay attention? Perhaps.

Is it because the annual NHL Awards Show could never find the time to properly honour the two all-star teams? Perhaps.

Could it be that the hype for the All-Star Game and weekend helped get us through the dog days of the season? Perhaps.

Don’t get me wrong, I like All-Star Weekend. I like the hype. Throughout it all, the John Scott Controversy, the 3-on-3 hockey, the Friday Night Gala and the parties are all worthy of the mid-season celebration. But we have lost the true definition of what it means to be an all-star.  

It’s more important and meaningful to count how many all-star teams a great player such as Nick Lidstrom was on, than how many All-Star Games he played in. The same for Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Stevie Yzerman and Sidney Crosby. 

Shea Weber at the 2015 NHL All-Star Game skills competition. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Shea Weber at the 2015 NHL All-Star Game skills competition. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There was a time when being honoured with a spot on an all-star team was almost as important as winning a trophy. Long before social media, fans would argue face-to-face (yes, in the same room) at the bar, in the dressing room or on the playground for hours on end about whether or not Brett Hull or Gordie Howe was an all-star winger.

Would Jean Beliveau ever be a first team centre instead of Stan Mikita. Would Dale Hawerchuck ever get what he deserved, playing behind Gretzky? Or Brad Park behind Bobby Orr?

It was important.

Forget about fixing the online voting habits of a few hockey-rabid fans. The NHL needs to find a way to re-discover a buried treasure.

Have a great time in Nashville, but find a way to honour the true all-stars - all 12 of of them - at the end of the season.

You see, there is a difference between playing in an All-Star Game, and being an All-Star.