What a wonderful weekend it was for the National Hockey League and the rest of the hockey community! Not only is the NHL celebrating its centennial, the All-Star hosts, the Los Angeles Kings, are celebrating fifty years of the expansion franchise back in 1967. The 1967 Expansion proved to be a pivotal moment as it would cater in a new era in the NHL’s storied existence.
After the NHL Fan Fare on Thursday, the NHL kicked off All-Star Weekend on Friday evening where the rest of the greatest 100 players of all time were revealed at The NHL 100 event. Choosing the best 100 out of the thousands to have stepped foot on NHL ice is certainly no easy task. At The NHL 100, the NHL paid homage to the greatest players to play the game over the course of the last century. Several of those players named were on-hand at the event which made it extra special.
Saturday, various NHL alumni joined celebrities to play in the NHL All-Star Celebrity Shootout for charity. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were named head coaches for the two teams who wore white and black jerseys, respectively. Wayne’s Whites included former Philadelphia Flyers’ legend, and 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee, Eric Lindros, as well as famed Canadian pop-star, Justin Bieber. Lemieux’s squad included former Stanley Cup Champion with the New Jersey Devils, Scott Niedermayer, as well as former Flyers defenseman, Chris Pronger. Fans got a laugh when Pronger introduced Bieber to the boards and his face to the glass. At the end of the game, Echoes of Hope was the biggest winner. Echoes of Hope is a nonprofit organization founded by Luc and Stacia Robitaille, which strives to inspire hope in the lives of at-risk and emancipated foster youth.
Immediately following the charity game was the 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition. There, the best players of this season were able to show off their incredible, speed, shot accuracy, stick-handling, sauce-passing abilities, shot power, and skating abilities, amongst the many challenging skills needed to make it to become the best in the NHL. Early on, the Metro won the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay.
The second event was the Honda NHL Four Line Challenge where players were tasked with shooting the puck through a puck-sized opening at the net. Leave it to Arizona Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith. Smith is the most recent goaltender in NHL history to score a goal, and he did so back in 2013. But back in 2013, Smith had an empty net to shoot on. That was not the case Saturday night with the board covering the entire net save for a small space for a puck to fit through. What a feat by Smith! The Pacific Division won this event by a landslide.
Next was the DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting event. New York Islanders’ captain John Tavares was defeated by former teammate and current forward with the Buffalo Sabres , Kyle Okposo. Nevertheless, the Metro took event three after Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby defeated Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie Auston Matthews. Crosby also hit all four targets in the least amount of time (10.73 seconds), which earned the Metropolitan Division an extra point. Despite one year away from age 30, Crosby continues to improve on all facets of his game year-after-year, making it very tough for the young players in today’s game to pry the torch out of his hands.
Fourth, eight skaters competed in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition. All eight skaters scored between 13.02 and 13.65 seconds in the half-rink preliminary round. At the end of the competition, it was Edmonton Oilers’ captain Connor McDavid with the fastest legs in the event giving him the opportunity to skate a full lap around the rink and record the time. Last year, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings was permitted to have a “running” start rather than being required to start skating from a complete stop. Larkin’s best time last year was 13.172 seconds. McDavid fell short with 13.310 seconds. Mike Gartner held the previous record since 1996 of 13.386. Perhaps next year McDavid and Larkin can go head-to-head.
Event five was the Oscar Mayer NHL Hardest Shot. Shea Weber (obviously) had the hardest shot, at 102.8 MPH. But Winnipeg Jets’ rookie Patrik Laine gave Weber a run for his money, recording 101.7 MPH. Hopefully, Laine gets a chance to participate in the event in the future, as the 18-year old will surely add more power to his already towering 6’5”, over 200-pound frame.
After five events, the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions participated in the Discover NHL Shootout (the Atlantic Division beat the Metropolitan Division in a tie-breaker to determine who would compete in the final event). Each team was permitted to select one player from the other division in the same conference. The Atlantic Division selected Crosby, while the Pacific Division chose Patrick Kane. Montréal Canadiens’ goaltender, Carey Price, and Boston Bruins’ netminder, Tuuka Rask, were flawless against NHL players in the competition. Anaheim Ducks’ forward Ryan Kesler decided to let his six-year old son Ryker shoot in his place. Ryker was the only player to score for the Pacific Division. Price needs to work on his five-hole!
The Atlantic Division scored three times. Crosby netting a Discover Puck for an extra bonus point. The prize for winning the Skills was the choice of first opponent and choice of first or second matchup to start at the 2017 Honda NHL All Star Game. The Atlantic Division chose the Metropolitan Division in the second matchup.
On Sunday afternoon at the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game, the Pacific Division steamrolled through the Central Division in the first matchup by a score of 10-3. In the second matchup, the Metropolitan Division defeated the Atlantic Division 10-6. Flyers’ forward Wayne Simmonds netted twice, both within the first five minutes. Tavares also scored twice, Cam Atkinson of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ assisting on both of his tallies. Tavares returned the favor by helping Atkinson score two of his own. New Jersey Devils’ forward Taylor Hall had a goal and an assist of his own. New York Rangers’ captain and defenseman Ryan McDonagh did not appear on the scoresheet in the first matchup.
The Metropolitan Division went up against the Pacific Division for the finals. After the first two games featured at least 13 goals between the two teams, the Metropolitan Division defeated the Pacific Division 4-3, a much tighter game defensively. While McDonagh did not record a point in the annual classic, he made an incredible late-game kick save to prevent the Pacific from tying it up at four. A rare shot block, I must add, as defense is pretty much non-existent for these games. Taylor Hall added another two assists and Tavares added another. Wayne Simmonds scored his third of the day, the game-winning goal for the Metro, earning him the All-Star Game MVP. While I criticized the NHL for choosing Simmonds over his teammates, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, Simmonds made the best of his first All-Star Game appearance, proving his deserving to be part of the star-studded weekend.
John Tavares seemed to have built some great chemistry with Cam Atkinson, who was at the annual classic in place of Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsbugh Penguins. Together, Atkinson and Tavares combined for ten points – five each. Only Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes had as many points as Atkinson and Tavares. Faulk spent a lot of his time on the ice with the aforementioned pair. Queue the Tavares/Columbus rumors!
Seriously though, if Tavares is looking to leave the New York Islanders when he becomes a free agent, perhaps Columbus Blue Jackets’ General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen should give Garth Snow (or his replacement) a call next year inquiring about Tavares. Or, perhaps Snow should give Jarmo a buzz regarding Atkinson. Absent a contract extension, Atkinson, 27, becomes an unrestricted free agent at the same time Tavares does. Atkinson’s cap hit is currently only $3.5 million and is on pace to surpass career-highs in goals, assists, and points. If his production pace continues next season, he will command a lot more than his current salary. But given the number of young guns that should be ready by the end of next season, there should be a decent amount of cap room to maneuver around and perhaps sign Atkinson long-term to play with Tavares. Atkinson could be the right-winger Tavares needs, and if Andrew Ladd can become more consistent, we’re looking at a more than just a solid first line – the first line could even be considered elite, something Tavares has never had the chance to experience in his career. The Blue Jackets have probably not discussed in depth the option of moving Atkinson, but everyone without a no-move or no-trade clause has a price.
The NHL has yet to announce where the 2018 All Star Game will be held – if at all – as a decision on whether or not the NHL players will participate in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea is still pending.