The NHL All Star break is less than two weeks away and most teams have already hit the midway point in their schedules for this season. The month between the All Star Game and the trade deadline is sure to be a busy time for many teams as there are 13 teams within two points of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and even the last place Oilers in the Western Conference are only seven points out of a potential playoff berth.
There have been plenty of ups and downs, questionable moves and excitement that have rippled through the league recently. The advent of 3 on 3 overtime has helped resolve more games in the extra session as opposed to going to the shootout. What have been some of the biggest headlines recently in the National Hockey League that have drawn the interest of the fans and the media? Let’s take a look at some of the biggest stories that have taken place recently.
Lecavalier Heads to the City of Angels: At 35 years of age, it’s safe to say that Vincent Lecavalier is in the twilight of his career. He’s scored 412 goals and has 934 career regular season points to his credit. He had played in just seven games for the Flyers this season and hadn’t been on the ice since mid-November. It’s safe to say that there still is some edge on the skate blades for Lecavalier and he wanted an opportunity to get a chance to prove his worth. He ended up getting just that.
The Flyers made a move as they shipped Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn to the Los Angeles Kings. In exchange, the Flyers received Jordan Weal and a third round pick. Lecavalier has paid dividends already for the Kings as he has a goal and an assist in four games with Los Angeles. Adding his veteran leadership and savvy play to their lineup will merely bolster the Kings’ chances as they try to make a deep run in the postseason. You can’t go wrong with adding a guy that has scored at least 50 goals in a season. Lecavalier has 25 goals and 54 points in 70 playoff games plus a Stanley Cup ring. He’ll fit right in with the Kings and this was a great get for Dean Lombardi.
Blackhawks Reel Off 11 Straight Wins: Chicago has been one of the elite teams in the National Hockey League in recent years as they have won three Stanley Cup titles in the past six years. The Blackhawks have plenty of talent with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook leading the way for the team. While cap money has led to deals that sent guys like Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad out of town, Chicago continues to find inexpensive pieces that step up and produce to keep the Blackhawks rolling right along.
The Blackhawks have rung up 11 straight victories and in the process, have taken over the top spot in the Central Division as they now hold a three point lead over the Stars, though Dallas has two games in hand. Chicago rolled Montreal 5-2 at home Sunday night behind a pair of goals from Toews and Kane’s league leading 29th goal of the year. Kane has a league leading 69 points on the season and is 13 points clear of second place Jamie Benn of the Stars. Chicago is the top team in the Western Conference standings and seems poised for another deep run in the playoffs.
New All Star Game System a Joke?: The NHL made the decision to change up the All Star Game setup for this season. Instead of the league having two All Star teams, one representing the Eastern Conference and one representing the West with each team having at least one representative, the decision was made to change it up. Now, there are FOUR All Star teams with each division being represented with a team. Instead of one 60 minute game, fans will see three 20 minute games and instead of five on five hockey, it will be three on three. Each division’s roster consists of 11 players with the player in each division getting the most fan votes being selected automatically and the rest of the players were selected by the NHL Hockey Operations Department. The player with the most votes in each division would be named the team captain of that particular division’s lineup.
With us so far? Give yourself a pat on the back because it’s about to get more convoluted and idiotic.
Let me preface by the fact that I’ve never personally been a proponent of fan voting for the All Star Game in any sport. Too often, ballot boxes are stuffed, votes are cast based on name recognition rather than production and there simply are too many guys in the All Star Game that have no reason to be there in the first place. Social media has made that concept even more ludicrous. A prime example was the fact that John Scott, an enforcer for the Arizona Coyotes who had played in all of 11 games and had one point to his credit, was the leading vote getter for the Pacific Division and thereby was the team captain.
Here’s where things get shady and confusing. Scott was asked by both the Coyotes and the league to bow out of the All Star Game, even allowing him to attend as if he were an injured player. The Coyotes expected that they would have a replacement player like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi or Mikkel Boedker potentially named in his spot. There was only one problem with that plan: Scott refused, saying he wanted to be a full blown participant in the All Star weekend. How did the Coyotes react to the situation? Well, they did what any good organization would do: they traded him to a team in the other conference so that team could bury him in the minor leagues.
Part of that statement was sarcasm and part of it was actual fact. Scott was dealt with Victor Bartley to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Jarred Tinordi. Immediately after being acquired, Scott was sent down to the Canadiens’ minor league affiliate and his career may well be over as there isn’t much use for Scott in Montreal. This has been a field day for conspiracy theorists, who feel that the league and the Coyotes are sticking it to Scott for something that he had no control over whatsoever. How will it unfold? Time will tell.
The league has stated that they are “evaluating” how the situation will affect the Pacific Division’s roster. Scott could suit up for the Pacific Division team despite the deal: the situation arose in 2003 with Sandis Ozolinsh and in 1990 with Bernie Nicholls. There is precedent for such a move. Perhaps the league is hoping that Scott will just make the decision to step aside and bow out on his own. All this has done is reinforce the fact that fan voting has little to no place in selecting participants for a showcase event in professional sports. The NHL can’t pull the rug out from under Scott’s skates merely because they don’t like the results of a voting platform they put in place.
Perhaps this will be a wakeup call for Gary Bettman, who has had his fair share of poor decisions since taking over as commissioner of the NHL more than two decades ago. This one is going to resonate for a while and could lead to a potential grievance filed by the NHLPA if they feel there was any sort of collusion involved in the making of this deal. No matter how you look at it, the end result won’t be a good one for a league that has lagged well behind the other major pro sports in North America.
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