The skills competition has always been the most entertaining part of All-Star Weekend. Up until John Scott and the 3-on-3 format, anyways.
Part of that is because you get to see guys from across the league hanging out and sharing a laugh. But it’s mostly because you get to watch the best players in the world perform basic hockey skills exceptionally well. Watching players marvel at Zdeno Chara cranking 100-mph clappers never gets old.
But we’ve been there and done that — we know Shea Weber has a hard shot. What we need to find out is who would be the worst at these events.
Enter the anti-skills competition, where players across the league get the chance to prove they’re in fact not the worst.
Instead of just pitting the most offensively-challenged players against each other, a number of factors were taken into consideration when picking participants to compete in the three tentpole events.
Hardest Shot Competition
Given today’s stick technology and the fact these are professional hockey players, every skater in the league should be able to put some mustard on their shot when given the chance to step into one. But slap shots don’t always suit a player’s game and, as a result, they aren’t unleashed all that often. So for this exercise, we decided to put those who stay away from slappers into the spotlight.
Johnny Gaudreau: He’s already participating in the real skills event, so Gaudreau’s inclusion is questionable. But it’s hard not to include a guy who literally uses the same stick flex as a child.
Johnny Gaudreau uses a 55 flex!?!?
Warrior Pro dept:
— KP (@warriorstickguy) September 27, 2016
Gaudreau does have three slapshot goals over his career, according to NHL.com stats, but none have been of the conventional variety. Here’s his lone slapper goal from this year, for example, courtesy of Sportsnet:
And his one from last year:
Matt Duchene: The Avalanche centre has a lot of good tools, but his slapshot isn’t one of them. Duchene has taken over 1,300 shots since entering the league and only has two goals via the clapper. One of the reasons for this is that Duchene favours a smaller stick, as seen in the picture below, which limits the amount of power he can generate when he loads up.
Paul Stastny: Stastny has been in the league for a long time – 723 games and counting. And although he’s more of a playmaker, he does have six 20-goal seasons and 198 career goals. But since NHL.com began tracking shot types in 2009-10, Stastny hasn’t scored using a slapshot, and is frequently near the bottom of the league in attempts every year.
Matt Martin: He didn’t earn a $10 million contract because of his offensive prowess, but the sheer lack of slappers Martin’s taken over his career is comical. Since coming into the league in 2009-10, Martin has played in 484 games and taken 597 shots. Of those nearly 600 shots, only nine have been slapshots – none of which have gone in the net. He has yet to take a slapshot this season, and only took one in each of the past two. He’s got the size, so you think he’d be able to lean into one, but they’re so rare it’s hard to say.
Notable exclusion: No player in the NHL is more famous for his aversion to slap shots than Phil Kessel. He’d be a fan favourite if he entered the event, but he scorched one through Louis Domingue’s glove earlier this year and has hit 100 mph before, so it wouldn’t be fair to the others.
Prediction: Martin grinds his way to a win after Gaudreau’s sticks explode in the final round.
Unlike a player’s shooting ability, one’s speed, or lack thereof, is much easier to determine using the good ‘ol fashioned eye test. Every team has a player who struggles to keep up with the pace of today’s NHL, but the following stand out more than most.
Matt Moulson: Moulson deserves a lot of credit for overcoming his speed deficiency. He’s been able to make up for it with a good shot and nose for the net, but as the league has gotten increasingly faster, Moulson’s lead-footedness has become even more noticeable.
Brooks Orpik: With speed at the forefront in today’s game, rugged, stay-at-home defencemen like Orpik are something of a relic in right now. Fortunately for Orpik, he has two years and $10 million left on his contract (sorry Caps fans). At 36 years old, Orpik has lost a step or 10 and would certainly give Moulson a slow run for his money.
Dan Girardi: Not to pile on “defensive defencemen,” but Girardi is another painfully slow player cut from that cloth. Skating has never been his strong suit – all the better here – and he’s not getting faster with age. Great shot-blocker, though.
Zdeno Chara: Big Z might not be the slowest player in the league, but we included him here because watching Chara in an event like this would be hilarious. At 39 years old, the giant defenceman doesn’t get around the ice as well as he used to, but his reach could give him an edge as he stretches to cross the finish line.
Prediction: Chara sets a record for fewest strides needed to complete the event.
Much like the hardest shot, the players picked for accuracy shooting should be taken with a grain of salt. You could find pee-wee players who could go 4-for-4 in a one-off event, so a deeper dig was needed to find the right candidates.
Dion Phaneuf: The Senators defenceman has six goals on the year and is on pace for his best offensive season in ages. It helps when you score on shots heading several feet wide of the net, but hey they all count. If you’re going to put together this type of competition you have to include the NHL’s most notorious glass-rattler.
Jason Spezza: This is purely an eye-test pick. Spezza just seems to miss the net more often than a player of his calibre should. The dude just loves going high and wide, and sometimes low and wide:
Shawn Thornton: For a finesse event like accuracy shooting, it only makes sense to throw in a banger like Stanley Cup champion Shawn Thornton. Among forwards who have played 500-plus games, Thornton’s 4.3 shooting percentage ranks last and his 41 goals second-last. Not that you need numbers to tell you Thornton isn’t much of a shooter.
Patrik Nemeth: This one’s a little bit of a wild card, seeing as how he’s yet to play a full season in the NHL. But Patrik Nemeth gets the nod because he has yet to score in 88 career games, slightly edging Nashville’s Derek Grant (81 games) for the longest active streak in the league. He deserves a chance to put some pucks in the net.
Prediction: Somebody goes 4-for-4 and ruins this whole experiment.