All-Star Weekend a Complete Success for Once
From John Scott to Brent Burns, Chewbacca to a Jagr impersonator and skills competition to 3-on-3, the NHL All-Star Weekend was an overwhelming triumph.
For once, the NHL All-Star Weekend wasn't downright boring.
Now, that's not to say it was a gripping, action-packed piece of theatre. The NHL All-Star events simply don't have the capacity for drama and excitement like those of the MLB's Home Run Derby or the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest.
But it wasn't dull. And that's an achievement on its own.
In many of the recent years fans have had to deal with it, the All-Star Weekend, down to its bare essentials, was a break from the regular season. Players would go less than half speed in the game, maybe do a couple cool moves in the skills competition and the best memories were usually from Friday's drunken draft.
This year, we were entertained to some degree. There were outstanding displays of talent, hilarious theatrics from the numerous intriguing characters around the league, and a handful of moments that were well worth tuning in for.
Nashville's All-Star Weekend was memorable.
And here's why.
Clowns Took Centre Stage
In a picture, this.
It happened when Brent Burns came to centre ice, ready to take his penalty shot. The lights shut off, a video played on the big screen and when the crowd could see Burns again, he was in a Chewbacca mask, tearing down the ice and ripping a slap shot into a net left wide open by a terrified Cory Schneider. The large, toothless San Jose defender then raised his stick over his head and perfectly portrayed the actions of the Star Wars character.
It happened when Burns and teammate Joe Pavelski brought their young sons out onto the ice in the Flying V formation, only to slide the puck past the tandem of Schneider and Roberto Luongo, whose bickering turned into a wrestling match.
Then Burns' son stole the show.
LIL BURNS pic.twitter.com/XxWqVzPFT9— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 31, 2016
And it happened when P.K. Subban came out of the locker room dressed head-to-toe in Jaromir Jagr gear. Subban was wearing old style hockey pants, a Florida Panthers jersey, a Jofa helmet and of course, a mullet so long it would have 1990's Billy Ray Cyrus in tears. After Subban scored in the shootout, he capped off the tribute with Jagr's signature salute.
Players wore cowboy hats, flashy sunglasses and Kevin Spacey in Space hoodies.
The skills competition is always the part of the weekend where the lifeless personalities take a backseat to the over-the-top eccentrics. This year, we got to see that more than ever.
Here's the part where you can actually thank the NHL.
For too many years, the All-Star Game was a congested lump of players going less than half speed. How do you fix that? Easy, give them more space.
With the NHL adapting to their new form of regular season overtime, they decided to also alter the All-Star Game in the same way. And it worked beautifully.
We saw end-to-end rushes, breakaway after breakaway, and the players were able to show off more of their talent with a plethora of open ice. And while no one really cared which side would take home the victory in the past, splitting the teams by division and having a three-game playoff turned it into a bit of a tournament, something the players might want to actually win.
I guess the prize money also didn't exactly hurt.
Hopefully this new and improved structure is here to stay and not just a phase.
The Players Actually Tried
No one's suggesting anyone went full bore - although, Ryan O'Reilly did seem to forget he wasn't three rounds deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs - but throughout the first two games, the pace was better than the last decade of All-Star Games.
Subban was laying down to block shots, Patrice Bergeron was backchecking like always, the goaltenders were at their absolute best, and John Scott even laid a hit on Patrick Kane.
And the championship game was even better.
Though the first two matches combined for 22 goals and the final only ended 1-0, there was a very prevalent compete level that no one had seen before. It probably helped that each player on the winning team won $90,000, but that's beside the point.
You could tell the game somewhat mattered to the players. There were instances of scrambles in the crease, players frantically looking for loose pucks, a coach's challenge that brought back a Taylor Hall goal, and a valiant effort by Team Atlantic in attempt to tie the game.
Of course, they were all smiling for the duration of the weekend, but having the players move their legs a lot faster than years past made a heck of a difference in entertainment value.
For people to truly care about something, there needs to be an underlying narrative. A meaningless hockey game just doesn't fit that bill. So what better than a little conspiracy theory to heat things up a bit?
The All-Star festivities were surrounded by an uneasy feeling. It was no secret that the NHL didn't want Scott present for their celebration.
After a trade got him sent to Montreal's AHL affiliate in St. John's, Newfoundland and also made him ineligible for the NHL's All-Star Game, the whole debacle was coloured a conspiracy by fans and hinted towards the same notion by reporters.
After all, Scott said the NHL made it quite clear to him that he wasn't welcome in Nashville.
The entire fiasco ended up producing an Us vs. Them vibe for the event, not to mention the month leading up to to it. It was Scott and the fans against the NHL's brass.
After the league had back-peddled until their bike's chain fell off, the charade all ended with Gary Bettman handing Scott a cheque for $1 million and the hockey world unanimously declaring him the saviour of the All-Star Game.
That's a pretty good story.
He was the main character of it all; the protagonist of a script that had been constructed by many different writers.
At the start, the league tried to keep him away, and by the end of it, they were chanting his name.
Hero pic.twitter.com/mZkbkPiCQl— NHL (@NHL) February 1, 2016
What embodied Scott's story the most may have been the final chapter. Long after he'd had a standing ovation at the skills competition and far past the two goals he scored in the semi-final.
During the final game on Sunday night, the NHL announced they had nominated Luongo, Taylor Hall and Johnny Gaudreau for the All-Star Game MVP. But the fans heavily disagreed.
Bridgestone Arena erupted with MVP chants for Scott, fans all over Twitter voted for him despite the absence of a nomination, and teams across the NHL - including Hall's Edmonton Oilers - cast their votes in favour of the 6'8" goon.
In the end, the overwhelming support sent Scott to centre ice to claim his prize. It couldn't have possibly worked out any better.
As Scott makes his way back to St. John's, nearing the end of his hockey career, it's possible the All-Star Game was his final appearance in the NHL.
And if it is, then so be it.
What a hell of a way to go out.
What was your favourite All-Star Weekend moment?
|Erik Karlsson's goal||21|
|John Scott's two goals||42|
|John Scott getting the MVP||154|
|Brent Burns as Chewbacca||17|
|PK Subban as Jaromir Jagr||6|