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Hockey Sticks and Politics



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One of my favorite memories from the 1970s was hearing Marv Albert finish his sportscast for a New York City station one January evening with: “And tonight is the NHL All-Star Game — for all you Wales Conference and Campbell Conference fans.”

Albert’s remark pointed up the fact that the NHL has no natural principle dividing it into two groups of teams, which is why, over the years, its all-star game has also featured Defending Champions vs. All-Stars, First Team vs. Second Team, East vs. West, NHL vs. Soviets, and North America vs. the World. By contrast, baseball has its time-honored leagues, football has the AFC and NFC, and the NBA has something of an East/West rivalry, though its all-star game is mostly just an excuse to watch pros play schoolyard ball (a non-fan once asked me in all seriousness, after I outlined the activities of NBA All-Star Weekend, “You mean the dunking contest and the all-star game are two separate events?”).

Anyway, this year the NHL decided to chuck the conference affiliations and let two players, Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal, pick teams in an alternating draft, river-hockey style. The result was the typical loosey-goosey, non-aggression-pact hockey all-star game, perhaps a bit higher-scoring than normal (Team Lidstrom beat Team Staal, 11-10), and no doubt even more of a challenge for the announcers. Yet many fans agreed that drafting the two sides made the game more interesting than usual — admittedly a low standard to surpass. And initial media returns are positive: Television ratings for this year’s game were 33 percent higher than those for the last game, two years ago.

So if Congress wants to improve its own dismal ratings, it should replace the boring old two-party system with NHL-style choosing up sides. One member sponsors a bill, another opposes it, and then they each pick a team: Cantor for friendly persuasion, Pelosi for brass knuckles; Paul Ryan for wonkery, Don Young for dealmaking; Weiner and Bachmann for rhetoric; and so forth. Instead of giving the majority party a permanent point-spread advantage, each new bill would match up a new pair of teams on an even footing. It might not result in better governance, but at least it would be less boring.

And if that doesn’t work, make them legislate outdoors on New Year’s Day. That would cut down on the speechifying in a hurry.



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