January 31, 2011
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire
season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to
one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to
complain about it.
I think there was a fair amount of skepticism that the new NHL All-Star format was going to be any good. And really, if we're being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the League really, really knocked it out of the park.
The addition of the player draft, regardless of what Brian Burke has to say about it, added considerable intrigue to what is normally a blasé affair full of no checking and no trying.
Let's overlook everything else for a minute and just recall the final minute and a half or so of the All-Star Game itself. Eric Staal's(notes) team was pouring a lot of effort into evening up the game, because they weren't just representing a collection of players grouped by their teams' geographical proximity to one another. They were playing for themselves: to prove they were picked for a reason.
Sure, there was the requisite amount of lazy giveaways and standing still in the neutral zone to make hockey purists grind their teeth and have their eye get all twitchy, but it was still the effortin'-est All-Star Game we've seen in years. Players were actually frustrated when they missed shots and hit posts. Steven Stamkos(notes) broke out a freakin' one-timer! It was madness.
(Coming Up: Ovechkin avoids criticism; Matt Duchene's(notes) wobbly pops; more on Charles Barkley and Michael Strahan invading a Wild rookie dinner; Corey Perry(notes) isn't entirely evil; Terry Pegula update; Skinnermania is running wild; Briere and Giroux go furniture shopping; the Kessel conspiracy; Letang and Toews score awesome goals; the NHL Guardians debut; and did Anze Kopitar(notes) steal his shootout moves from two kids in Ottawa?)
Ovechkin throwing his stick at Matt Duchene, the crowd buzzing any time Jeff Skinner(notes) got the puck anywhere near the net, Jonas Hiller(notes) taking a bomb off the mask, Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) and Shea Weber(notes) going a combined plus-13, Team Staal blowing a 4-0 lead as quickly as it was built, Phil Kessel(notes) doing nothing whatever to make anyone question his being chosen last. It was all exactly what people were looking for.
The Skills Competition was also massively entertaining, moreso than in the past, but that may have had a lot to do with the very impressive performances from guys like Zdeno Chara(notes) and Daniel Sedin(notes) rather than any particular innovation introduced, like the rookie competitors or the fastest goalie race (authorities are still in pursuit of the sniper that took out Timmy Thomas). The Hardest Shot contest alone turned out to be a big deal not because Chara broke his own record, but because every time he got the puck in a half-decent shooting area, the entire crowd wanted him to bomb it toward the net.
But again, without the brilliant innovation of the Draft on Friday night, this whole thing would have been as bland as every other All-Star Game ever. And not even an Owen Nolan(notes) called shot could save us from the tedium.
Look, nothing's going to replace the Olympics in terms of excitement, for reasons I don't have to explain, but this is now officially the most exciting All-Star format in professional sports. And while that's not exactly the highest bar ever to be hurdled, it must be said that between the mock drafts and the criticism and the memorable moments, this All-Star weekend didn't go wanting for intrigue or interest.
The NHL deserves a hell of a lot of credit for that.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: A very nice feature on Corey Perry who actually came across pretty well over All-Star weekend. Now I almost think he doesn't gain power by feeding on human misery and getting away with cheap shots away from the play.
Atlanta Thrashers: Don't think Gary Bettman doesn't know there's yet another lawsuit over the Atlanta Thrashers. "There seems to be lots of litigation that goes on with respect to that franchise," said The Commish, who excels at stating the obvious.
Carolina Hurricanes: Everywhere Jeff Skinner went this weekend was like the Beatles landing at Idlewild. Men gnashed their teeth, women fainted, children wept in the street. Skinnermania is running wild down there, yes indeedy.
Chicago Blackhawks: Despite not scoring after early in the second period and being on the losing team, Patrick Sharp(notes) was named All-Star MVP by the fans (probably because Versus spent the entire second period saying he had four points when he, in fact, did not). Doesn't matter though, since you won't remember that in a week. Best Columbus Blue Jacket ever.
Colorado Avalanche: Much respect for Matt Duchene, havin' a couple wobbly pops after the All-Star Draft despite being underage.
Maybe that's why he missed the first penalty shot in All-Star Game history.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Are the Blue Jackets a buyer or a seller this season? The next 12 games will go a long way toward figuring it out. They're currently in 13th place in the West, but only five points out of the playoffs. This is a common problem in that conference.
Dallas Stars: Even though the team is struggling a bit financially because of their ownership situation, the league isn't funding the Stars' operations, scuttling all reason for conspiracy theorist crybabies to complain when Dallas eventually finishes higher than their favorite team. No just kidding, facts never enter into that type of discussion.
Edmonton Oilers: Taylor Hall(notes) hasn't finished as many of his chances as he probably should have to this point, but then he's only 18. Plus, he's getting really, really good and will probably explode in the final third of the season.
Los Angeles Kings: SCANDAL!!! Did Anze Kopitar steal his shootout moves from two kids in Ottawa?
Minnesota Wild: Last week, the Wild were having their annual rookie dinner, when Michael Strahan and Charles Barkley intervened and made the team's three kids - Jared Spurgeon(notes), Cody Almond(notes) and Clayton Stoner(notes) - sing a song, perform three skits and tell a joke. Then they had to pay $5,000 to cover the check. Seems like a decent night eh?
Montreal Canadiens: One of the unequivocal highlights of the weekend was PK Subban(notes) trying to work a cheap pop from the crowd by putting on Jeff Skinner's jersey. Kid knows how to run a gimmick for sure, but apparently it was Danny Boyle's idea.
New Jersey Devils: Here's some absolute garbage from Bruce Garrioch -0 The Devs might trade Zach Parise because of cap constraints. Because the one guy you wanna get rid of at a time like this is the 26-year-old one who puts up like 85 or 90 points a year and plays defense like a checking-line center.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist's(notes) season so far? Well, it's a B+. Sorry Hank, you gotta be better than first or second in the league in every goaltending category to break an A, like Marty Biron did. ... Wait what?
Philadelphia Flyers: Dany Briere and Claude Giroux(notes) live together. Many articles have noted this. However, the only time it's been even a little weird is when they went to go buy Giroux's bedroom furniture. That's not even a joke. They went together.
Phoenix Coyotes: Good news in the desert: the Coyotes' farm system doesn't completely suck any more. The team has really moved to try developing talent rather than rush kids to the NHL these days. *coughViktorTikhonovcough*
Vancouver Canucks: I could watch Daniel Sedin shoot out the targets on four shots all day. It's awesome.
Normally, of course, everyone in the hockey world would be up in arms about this, but since it was the All-Star Game, that's just Ovie havin' a good ol' time. Fun stuff.
Gold Star Award
Way to go, Raleigh for apparently hosting the crap outta this All-Star weekend.
Minus of the Weekend
We'll get you some day, Deven Dark!!!
Play of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User "RangerBoy" has it together.
See ya out there gang.
This Weekend's Worst Guardian
Oh I don't know the whole thing went great from where I sit.
Do yourself the hugest favor of your entire life and read all these mini-comics about the various Guardians. They are all wonderful in their own terrible way.