The NHL All Star Game is a lot of things. Chief among them is predicatable. There will be lots of shots on goal, lots of goals,pretty passing, and no more than four minutes between goals. Here are a few of the things you won’t see:
10: Perfectly delivered hip checks.
9: 100+ mph slapshots
8: A goalie MVP
7: Three penalties in the same period.
6: Battles along the boards.
5: A double digit blocked shot total
4: 35 minutes from any defenseman (or as they’re properly termed in this event the fourth and fifth forwards).
3: Creases being cleared out.
2: An opportunity for the announcers to say “what a hit by…”
1: Line brawls.
I’d guess that at least half of the people writing about sports have their dissection of their sports All Star game half written or more before it pulls over the event horizon. Which is fine. They are awful. They don’t resemble anything like the real sport. They fuel the pinkhats to ever more ludicrous criticisms of the regular season and even post season game. Sponsors give tickets to people who can only (sorta) name the three or four most marketed players. Big names who are injured or have a “sick” grandmother don’t take part in the event. The list of things wrong with the All Star concept is longer than what is right with them.
But that’s probably for the best. This NHL All Star weekend features enough payroll to get about six teams over the cap floor. Either team could mow down any team in the NHL with a week of practice and without having to wear themselves out. But that is the point, these are the cream of the crop. By definition if you are at the All Star weekend, you are one of the two or three most important players (or most marketable, which are sometimes the same thing) for your team. Never heard of Jamie Benn before he was added to the roster? That’s ok, The Dallas Stars fans love him. John Tavares is on a team that sucks? Big deal, he’s still an absurdly talented player. You live in the southeast and have never even seen the Calgary Flames play? Jarome Iginla’s a future hall of fame inductee, get on the phone with your TV provider and pickup the Center Ice package, he’s a treat to watch. Logan Couture went last, he can’t be any good can he? Yes, yes he can. He was 2nd in voting for best rookie last season.
While the deepest teams in the league can get by without one or two studs that’s maybe five or six teams. There is also the not so subtle difference between “get by” and “thrive”. Not many people could make the argument that the Philadelphia Flyers would be a worse team with Chris Pronger int he lineup with a straight face. Even fewer would actually believe it. Chicago has been without Patrick Sharp for several weeks, and had been in first when he went out with an injury. Both are teams at the top of the depth and quality charts. But take Jamie Benn or Jarome Iginla off their teams for a month and there’s no joy in Mudville. Brian Campbell and the Florida Panthers have had a hell of a ride this season, but if he were to miss ten games with a groin injury suffered in this meaningless marketing event the chances of Sunrise hosting even the minimum two home games is dramatically reduced, and with it the team can wave goodbye to millions in revenue.
Another important aspect of the All Star weekend is that because it is meaningless, except for the goalies and other crazies who can’t turn off their competitive nature ever it’s fun first to last. Patrick Kane’s Superman shootout routine was superb. Carey Price goaltending backwards was absolutely hilarious. Scott Hartnell taking questions about and even promising to contribute to HartnellDown is just a great thing. For me as a dedicated fan, this has been one of the most enjoyable weekends in a longtime. Without the two stars the media has embraced most, we get to see more of the stars of the other twenty eight teams in both conferences and all six divisions. Luke Adam (@LukeJAdam) of the Sabres. Shea Weber of the Predators both got more face-time with the media and potentially sponsors who might want to do regional advertising than they would have had the guy from Pittsburgh and the guy from D.C. been on site. Hell, Craig Smith could become the first star of the historically faceless Nashville Predators forward group while Justin Faulk (@JustinFaulk27) provided looks at a guy other than the one who has been the face of the Carolina Hurricanes franchise for the last decade.
If anything should convince you of how dangerous the game could be with the pressure of some sort of standings impact or season impacting value its probably the hardest shot competition. We saw three different players shooting over 100mph , with the highest hitting 108.8 (175 kph) there are a number of guys who sport huge bruises off shots in the 80s, and Ryan Callahan, and Chuck Kobasew can both tell you that Chara’s shot will break bones if it hits you in the wrong spot. The game is meaningless, and as long as you don’t try and think of it as real hockey it can be fun, more importantly the players who don’t mind the media let loose and give a fun interview or two and go home healthy.