NHL All-Star Game's part of a good party; World Cup problems ahead
Off The Draw
Quick hits as we head into the home stretch:
• The best thing about having the NHL's All-Star Weekend in the rearview mirror? We now have an 11-month respite from all the griping and groaning about how horrible the game is.
No, it's not for everybody. But it's not trying to be. There's fast-paced, hard-hitting meaningful hockey played on most nights from October through June. You want that, you're covered. This is something else entirely.
As this past weekend proved, the game itself is now the least appealing element of the festivities. The draft is maturing into a boozy, sloppy chirp-fest that provides way more laughs than it has any right to. As the Golden Globes have figured out, we don't mind seeing our heroes a little pickled once a year. Here's hoping the drinks are flowing next year in Nashville.
The skills competition delivered in a big way. The breakaway challenge provided a couple of indelible memories—who doesn't love Johnny Gaudreau now?—and Shea Weber finally got his moment, asterisk be damned.
And if the game itself has devolved into a couple hours of no-touch shinny, so what? This is a party more than a contest and no amount of kvetching about the quality of play or lack of defense is going to change that. The guys are having fun, everyone gets their families involved (how great was it to see Darryl Sutter's son Chris behind the bench?), the league's partners are properly schmoozed and the host city gets a moment in the sun.
No reason to change that.
• There's a story that's well known in some circles about an on-ice official who made a habit of pocketing a few game-used pucks every night and using them to barter for airline upgrades.
Not a big deal when they cost a buck or so, but it might become one if the league adopts an experimental program that involves putting a tracking chip in each puck to provide revolutionary real-time data on zone time and shot speed.
The pucks currently cost about $100 each to produce, although a league source said that price per unit will drop through the magic of mass production if/when the league commits to using them on a full-time basis.
But even if it does drop to, say, $50 per that's still a significant investment on the part of the league when you consider how much rubber it burns during the course of a season. Consider that there are 1,230 regular season games. For each, the home team is required to provide 15 pucks per period. That's 45 biscuits per night.
Even without a degree in advanced stats, you can do the math: That's nearly $3 million per season compared to the current $100,000 or so.
As the All-Star Game proved it's a pretty interesting tool for the broadcasters, but there's still a long way to go before the technology produces the sort of reliable data that stat hounds are seeking.
Still, they're probably cool enough to get someone bumped up to a first class seat.
• Canadians are accustomed to sending less than their country's best players to international tournaments. Canada's World Junior team routinely makes do without eligible players who are retained by their NHL clubs. The World Championship side is cobbled together with leftovers who are not participating in the Stanley Cup race. So maybe it won't be such a big deal if the 2016 World Cup team doesn't have access to a couple of worthy players who, by virtue of being aged 23 or under that summer, will be obligated to play for the North American YoungStars.
Or maybe it will.
When you want to market an event as best-on-best, it helps if a team can actually use all of its top players. It's not a matter of whether or not Canada can put together a competitive team without the likes of Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon, but that it shouldn't have to for a tournament of this kind.
That's not to say either player would be a lock, or even a favorite, to make the World Cup club. But next year, who knows? And at least one scout thinks the age barrier could be a bigger problem for Team USA. “You look at a kid like Jacob Trouba," he said. "A year from now, who's to say he isn't one of their top-six [defensemen]? What about Seth Jones or Johnny Gaudreau or Nick Bjugstad? Maybe those guys are their best option but they have to take older guys instead.
“You still have a very good, very competitive team but you don't have the best team. It's just a bad idea.”
It may not be bad for the league, which gets to market the maximum number of its players, but it's definitely a stain on the integrity of a tournament that aspires to top-tier status.
What you missed
• Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau wanted to use a flaming stick in the All-Star Skills Competition, but the NHL didn't think it was a hot idea.
• Kings coach Darryl Sutter's son, Chris, had himself a night behind the bench while helping his dad run Team Foligno during the game.
• Predators defenseman Shea Weber won the hardest shot competition with this blast.
The numbers game
• Among the records set in this year's NHL All-Star Game: most goals by one team (17, Team Toews), most goals by both teams (29), and most goals in one period (11, in the second).
• Ryan Suter, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin and Steven Stamkos set a new All-Star Game record by scoring four goals in 58 seconds during the second period.
• Jakub Voracek's six points tied the single game mark set by Mario Lemieux in 1988
• The great Dave Stubbs says there are two goaltending records that never will be equaled: Glenn Hall's mark of 502 consecutive starts and this amazing mark set by Charlie Hodge.
• Dejan Kovacevic has three ideas for increasing scoring in the NHL: force penalized players to serve the full two minutes (check), angle the goal posts inwards to create more favorable bounces (check) and then this. He's not the first to suggest it, but he makes the case well.
• Rex Murphy eloquently argues that inducting Don Cherry into the Order of Canada would be a trumpet blast for national unity. Not sure about that, but that doesn't make the honor any less appropriate.
• Here's the story of the time that Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, finally met Stephen Harper, the junior hockey star.