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Last week’s NHL All Star Weekend was a blast! Usually, All Star festivities are a bit boring and predictable. Baseball’s summer classic is a glorified popularity contest and the once-electrifying Home Run Derby lost its appeal about the time we woke up and realized nobody could really hit a baseball that far without some assistance. The baseball game itself is a yawn, and whoever in the Commissioner’s office came up with the inane idea that the winning league gets home park advantage in the World Series definitely picked the wrong incentive—for the players and the fans alike.

Over the past several years, the NHL introduced innovative concepts that have upped the expectations for other pro sports. The All Star game is a great example. In the 2010-11 season, the league in conjunction with the players’ association unveiled their version of a Fantasy Hockey draft for the game. Fans vote for six players from each conference (three forwards, two defencemen, and one goaltender), and the NHL selects another 36 players. The players chosen for the team then select two captains, one for each all-star team.

The captains selected their teams in an old-fashioned draft—great entertainment for those watching in person or on TV. Of course, everyone watched to see who would be the first pick…. and the last. Just like in those sandlot or parking lot pick-up games where everyone wants to be the player picked first… or at least early… and no one wants to be last man standing. But don’t feel too bad for San Jose’s Logan Couture—he received a new Honda CrossTour and funds to donate to the charity of his choice for claiming the “Lantern Rouge” distinction in the 2012 All Star Fantasy Draft.

Team captains also determine participants in the thoroughly entertaining skills competition. You think watching ballplayers hit home run after home run after home run is exciting? Look at these competitions:

Fastest Skater
Breakaway Challenge
Accuracy Shooting
Skills Challenge Relay
Hardest Shot
Elimination Shoot Out

All this leading up to the actual All Star game. There was no East vs. West; no American League vs. National League… just Team Chara and Team Alfredsson, with nothing on the line but pride and a weekend’s entertainment.

Translate that to Major League Baseball, and the mid-season contest could become highly entertaining. Limit the number of players that the fans can vote to play on the team (popularity contest). Let the coaches vote for the rest (who’s actually having the best season). Then allow the players to select two captains (peer respect). Let the captains mix up the National and American League players during the draft. Derek Jeter on the same team as Albert Pujols? Think about the possibilities.

The NHL’s All Star festivities come barely a month after the Winter Classic, another coup for the league. Kudos to the NHL. Hockey may not always get the respect and coverage it deserves when compared to the NBA, NFL, or MLB. But in terms of knowing how to provide a product that captures fan support, the NHL ranks #1.

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