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NHL Cancels the Breakaway Challenge Because They Hate Fun

The NHL had a good thing going with the breakaway challenge in the skills competition during All-Star Weekend. So, of course, they canceled it.

by Dave Lozo
Jan 17 2017, 4:25pm

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the signature moment from the 2015-16 regular season: the NHL All-Star Weekend. John Scott's MVP performance in the face of the league that didn't want him involved was such a moving story that it will be turned into a movie.

It was the most-watched All-Star Game since 2004. The NHL captured magic in a bottle—although it had to be dragged kicking and screaming to that magic, but that's nothing new with this league—and actually had people looking forward to All-Star Weekend again in 2017.

The weekend, not just the game.

Why? Because as fun as it was to see Scott give a middle finger to the NHL and carry away a million-dollar check, the skills competition seemed to finally find its stride thanks largely to the breakaway challenge. But now the league is doing away with this part of the competition. Maybe the NHLPA had it axed because god forbid the players ever show some personality on a big stage.

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How can the NHL and NHLPA agree to cancel a competition that last year brought us P.K. Subban dressing up as Jaromir Jagr and Brent Burns donning a Chewbacca mask? Or Alex Ovechkin in a hat and sunglasses partnering with Evgeni Malkin for a trick shot? Or the Brian Elliott selfie with Vladimir Tarasenko? Or the best breakaway challenge moment of all, Jakub Voracek guiding Johnny Gaudreau to the net like a child after Ryan Johansen did the same thing one turn earlier with an actual child?

The breakaway competition is unique for the NHL because it's a skills competition component that lends itself best to social media, which is something every sports league wants to embrace and conquer. And the NHL let it die.

Here we are, two weeks from the All-Star Game and once again, the NHL is showing it is incapable of experiencing joy and unable to learn from mistakes.

The All-Star Game is for the fans. Always has been. Last year, the fans wanted John Scott. The NHL did not. Would it have been a mistake to attempt to duplicate what happened with Scott this year? Perhaps, but changing the voting rules to all but take that possibility away from the fans was just the first mistake by the NHL.

But fine. Sending another goon to the game would have probably just disappointed anyway. Sometimes sequels only tarnish the original memory. (Looking at you, Anchorman 2.)

Here's where you wish you could take custody of the All-Star Game and even the sport from the NHL.

Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos broke the news. His analysis was, "I think the only ones disappointed that this stuff is gone are children under nine and Elliotte Friedman."

First of all, why does Friedman have to take shit from mediocre ex-players on his panels? It used to come from P.J. Stock, a guy who once endorsed adult diapers, and now it's coming from a guy who had 90 points in a career that ended 20 years ago. I'll tell you a secret: if Elliotte Friedman likes something, it's probably OK.

Second of all, why are we openly shitting on what children under the age of nine like? The All-Star Game is not for jaded adults like myself and Kypreos. Is it so terrible that the NHL had something that kids like? Remember, eventually these kids grow up and spend disposable income on things, maybe even NHL-related things. But better scrap the thing kids like because some player feels uncomfortable smiling when a camera is on him.

Even the NHL's ad campaign on NBC for the game is puzzling.

A series of NHL All-Stars are interspersed with images of Los Angeles, the site of this year's game. It's Patrick Kane, big as life, decked out in his Chicago Blackhawks uniform and holding his stick doing his worst Tony Montana imitation: "SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!"

You're not wrong to think the NHL may be trolling you with this ad. Kane, the guy accused of sexual assault last year, is doing a Cuban accent that's worse than the one Al Pacino does in the movie. Say. Hello. To. My. Little. Friend. It really happened. There are marketing people at the NHL, NBC, and the Blackhawks along with PR people from all three entities along with Kane's agent who heard this idea and said, "Yes, have Patrick Kane quote a line from one of the Hollywood's most vicious criminals. This is good."

Look, I'm not naïve. The NHL is never going to completely scrub Kane from promotional stuff. His presence in World Cup of Hockey commercials should have prepared us for this. Kane was never charged or convicted of rape, so the league will never completely distance itself from him. That's just reality, no matter how tone-deaf it may be to put Kane out there like this.

But why—WHYYYYYY—is he at the forefront of these things? Why isn't he just a face you see when they show a series of All-Stars? Even if you take away the rape accusation from last year, did anyone actually like Kane before that? In 2009, a 20-year-old Kane was arrested for an altercation he allegedly had with a 62-year-old cab driver over the sum of 20 cents. Kane eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a noncriminal violation. Yet this is the guy you're building the league around?

And this isn't just me complaining. Let's go back to last year's All-Star weekend one last time.

During player introductions that Saturday night, fans in Nashville went crazy when John Scott's name was announced. They loved him. Scott smiled. It was the moment when you knew the Scott thing was going to work.

What had made it even funnier was that Kane had been announced just before Scott, and the booing for Kane was so loud that Scott burst out laughing on national television.

And this is the guy starring in commercials for the event one year later.

Fans let their voices be heard loud and clear during last year's All-Star Game and they were ignored or muted in every way imaginable for this year's game.

At least the NHL is consistent.

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