More than ever this year, NHL players at the all-star game seemed to embrace the concept that putting on a worthwhile event is at least half their responsibility, and maybe more.
Starting with the fantasy draft on Friday, the players showed their humour and willingness to be something more than stoic and serious in front of the cameras and tape recorders.
Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen really were hometown stars, while Jakub Voracek’s comedy bit with Johnny Gaudreau was good fun.
All in all, the notion that the players and the owners are partners in the event, and that the players have to do more than just show up, was evident. Now, if the players could just convince each other a little more effort in the game would make it better. In fact, just a tiny, wee bit more effort would help enormously.
Some suggest giving the players an expensive watch for all-star participation would increase their effort. But they already tried putting money on the table, and that didn’t work. They’re all extremely wealthy as it is. Go back to conference play, with the winner getting home ice in the Cup final? That doesn’t seem to have any legs, certainly not with the commissioner’s office. The union might be more inclined to scrap the draft and the skills competition, but those are probably better events than the game itself now.
So the status quo for the foreseeable future seems the likely scenario.
Other weekend takeaways:
The contract turned albatross: It was December, 2007 when Mike Richards signed a 12-year, $69 million contract with Philadelphia. Since then he’s been traded – worked out pretty well for him – and today he found himself on waivers with five years still left on the deal. It does make you think twice about the concept of “locking players up,” that seems to be the norm these days.
Of course, 12-year deals are no longer possible. Still, L.A. undoubtedly now wishes it had exercised a buyout option on Richards last summer.
Gone and not forgotten: If you thought it was a bit peculiar earlier this season when the Tampa Bay Lightning honoured Marty St. Louis this season after he had demanded a trade out of Tampa last season, you might have been more satisfied with the reception of boos Rick Nash got at the all-star game from Blue Jackets fans, both when he was introduced and every time he touched the puck.
They even cheered when he missed the net on a breakaway in the first period. The perception here, right or wrong, is that he demanded a trade out of Columbus, and apparently they aren’t forgiving him. Not yet, anyway. Voracek, on the other hand, received generous applause as a former Columbus draft pick.
Leafs for sale: Interesting to read speculation out of Dallas that the Stars might have a prominent place for Dion Phaneuf on their blueline, noting that the cost to get Phaneuf out of Toronto would be enormously high. Shows the fishbowl of Toronto, with so many suggesting the Leaf captain is untradeable, might skew perception a tad. Unlike Richards, Phaneuf is at the very least a good player in the league, just not the star and captain some wish he was.
Goalie angst: Fun was had by all, yes, on the all-star weekend. Well, except for Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins goalie was lit up for seven goals on Sunday and was reportedly ticked off about it afterwards. Being razzed by Columbus fans who got to know Fleury in the playoffs last year made it more miserable.
Creating leverage: It’s hard to say at this point whether the NHL will return to the Olympics in 2018 or beyond. But by setting up a World Cup schedule for 2016 and 2020, the NHL has at the very least increased its bargaining power with the IIHF and IOC.
Moreover, if players start to feel they enjoy the World Cup as much as the Olympics, they may be less insistent on continuing to pursue Olympic medals.
Young guns still uncertain: The NHL still hasn’t set out a date of birth eligibility requirement for the 23-and-under World Cup entry, and the thinking there is they want to set the date in such a way as to capture the most possible Canadian and American players. They could just go with the Sept. 15 date that decides draft eligibility, but they may choose to go later on the calendar to make more players eligible.
Hard to ignore: Good line from Buffalo GM Tim Murray at the CHL Top Prospects Game last week.
“You show up saying I’m not going to watch Connor McDavid. But he forces you to watch him anyway.”
Sabres listening: Murray, by the way, says he isn’t being cagey and holding on to his available players as long as possible before dealing them closer to the trade deadline.
“I’m not waiting,” he said. “I’m ready to go now.”
Improving draft stock: Ottawa 67s forward Travis Konecny had to be the big individual winner at the prospects game with his two-goal performance.
He fell in recent NHL Central Scouting rankings after being seen as possibly a top 10 pick last fall, and looked like he’s intent on working his way back. He played on the best line in the game (no surprise) with Erie superstar Connor McDavid. The third member of the line was Halifax winger Timo Meier, a Swiss-born forward who some NHL scouts believe could play in the NHL next season because of his size and North American style of play.
Pairing for the future?: Team Orr, coached by Bobby Orr, won the game 6-0, and a big reason why was the defensive pairing from the Brandon Wheat Kings of Ivan Provorov and Ryan Pilon. Provorov was ranked 10th by Central Scouting in its mid-term rankings, and Pilon was ranked 31st. A clever NHL general manager might see fit to draft both in June, and set himself up with a lock-down pair for a decade.
Racing for the Rocket: Should be a good stretch run for the Rocket Richard Trophy, with Rick Nash, Vladimir Tarasenko, Steve Stamkos, Tyler Seguin and Alex Ovechkin all in serious contention.
Back to reality: Zemgus Girgensons had all the attention he could possibly want on the weekend after finishing first in all-star voting (with a little help from Latvia) with more than 1.6 million votes. Now he gets to back to being 168th in NHL scoring and back to being with the Buffalo Sabres, losers of 15 of their past 16 games.
Giving masked men a voice: It really was amazing on Sunday to listen to Carey Price chat with the broadcasting crew while he was facing shots from some of the best players on the planet. Imagine that in a regular season game. Won’t happen, but we can dream, can’t we?