Like most legitimate sports fans, All Star events at most inspire tepid interest and usually only to give me something to focus my scorn on while waiting for real games to be played again. When the player draft was announced my lack of whelm for even the skills completion was dulled seriously. Add in several of the leagues top players either not being able to be there, having bad seasons, or otherwise unable to participate and you had a recipe for blah that hindsight tells us almost had to be exceeded.
The fantasy draft was done live and having nothing better to do and the state of tv being what it is, there wasn’t even anything better to watch. Besides, like most people I wanted to see who would go last, which teammates would be split up and who if anyone would have a personality I hadn’t suspected revealed. With twenty two first timers at the weekend, and guys like Brad Richards and the rookies there were a lot of faces even hardcore NHL fans had trouble placing.
Eric Staal, captain of the host cities team was given huge cheers at every opportunity. Nicklas Lidstrom, six time winner of the Norris Trophy was his opposite number and received a lot of respect. The rising star of the weekend, and almost certainly the prize pick of the last draft was Jeff Skinner.
The draft was at least as interesting for watching the guys in the audience as it was for figuring out which team to cheer for, especially after teammates were split up. While the splitting of the Sedin twins was given the most attention, the other dynamic duo to go to different teams was Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, each of whom has won the top award for their position. Seeing how many teammates and former teammates were taken by each captain was not in any way surprising.
While I’m hardly Phil Kessel’s biggest fan, I’m kinda shocked he wasn’t picked higher and used in the fastest skater competition. Speaking of the fulcrum of the most spectacular trade within the Northeast/Adams Division in recent memory am I the only surprised that Kessel was chosen as the Maple Leaf’s All Star? He’s not leading the team in points, Clarke Macarthur holds that position. He’s also not leading the team in goals, that’s Mikhail Grabovski. He’s not leading the NHL in any stat, and in fact had the worst +/- of any participant I can think of. Even Elias who was his teams token representative has more points, and a +/- that betters Kessel’s by 13. Is this perhaps an indication by Brian Burke that Grabovski and Macarthur can count their stay in Toronto as winding down? Or is it just an attempt to deflect attention from Kessel’s cap glutting salary, limited utility, and what was given up (Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and a first in 2011) to acquire him? Who knows.
After watching the draft, and seeing the goalies, defense, and BlackHawks past and present assembled, it was to many a foregone conclusion that team Lidstrom was a better structured team. With the collection of talent there it wasn’t possible to have a bad team but one was clearly better. Yet when the skills competition was over Team Staal stood tall with a very respectable win. I wonder how many people adjusted their position on the teams at this point? The early first period of the actual game probably had more adjusting and even some complete reversals going on. In a real game a four goal lead early in the first would probably get ugly. In an All Star game…well, there’s no need or ability to get where you already are. Team Lidstrom eventually won, and Tim Thomas continued his string of All Star game decisions by winning number three, the longest in NHL All Star history.
Overall their were only two big disappointments on the weekend; the game not counting as one since no one expects them to be good. The first was the lack of push given to some of the stars who are not named Crosby or Ovechkin. Stamkos is young, hugely talented, and I’ve not yet heard anyone cry at having to look at him. Jeff Skinner has a teen heart throb glow in public that probably gives security fits, not to mention he’s a dynamic talent himself. Both of them are in non-traditional hockey markets, and anything that can be done to boost their local and national exposure can’t hurt the game. Loui Eriksson is rising over the lonestar state, while Boston born Keith Yandle is the leader of the pack out in Phoenix. Both teams have experienced ownership questions and a fitting salute to those fan bases would have been reassuring and growth inducing.
The other disappointment was of course the National Anthem singing. The Canadian anthem is heard infrequently by most Americans and seems to have a vastly different flavor each time. For those of us who have a team from north of the border in their division, we’ve come to expect a certain level of verve and energy, I failed to find it. Worse was the American Anthem, far, far worse. Clay Aiken was truly, unbelievably bad. I’m not sure if he’s never actually heard The Star Spangled Banner sung, or if the person who did sing it for him was utterly tone deaf and had a range of three notes, none of them consecutive. Steven Tyler recently sang the anthem here in Boston and was lucky to avoid being booed. This performance was irretrievably worse, it was the national showcase for a league that has trouble getting respect from the media, and attention from fans of other sports. By allowing someone so utterly unfit for the privilege granted them, the league signaled their lack of serious pursuit of creditability. Any number of singers, male or female could have turned in a better performance. Unquestionably there are at least a dozen American Idol participants who made it to Hollywood that could have done better. Here’s a tip; pick someone with an album that has songs with a lot of vocal range on it. They will probably do a great job. Alicia Keys, Faith Hill or Toni Braxton would have brought down the house, and their male counterparts like Toby Keith, Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown, or Enrique Iglesias would have done the song justice.
As for the Guardian Project, great drawing.