- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009


What’s wrong with All-Star weekend?

The past few days have become an annual tradition for the NHL - not only is it a time to bring everyone together for All-Star weekend, it is also a time for everyone to point out what is wrong with the festivities.

It isn’t a “real” hockey game, the SuperSkills competition is too long or not cool enough - there are plenty of complaints to go around. So what is the league to do? Is there a way to overhaul the weekend to make it more fan-friendly or more TV-friendly, or should it be tossed aside altogether so the league can devote more time and resources to the budding financial bell cow that is the Winter Classic?

The answer is there are no perfect answers. All-Star weekend isn’t going anywhere because the NHL needs the forum to schmooze with the league’s corporate sponsors. There have been plenty of good ideas put forth to tweak the skills competition and the game.

What are some of the best ones? Tying in other communities in the hockey world, like having a college or junior game, would be a nice addition. Maybe alternating formats between East vs. West and North America vs. the world would add a bit of intrigue.

But the No. 1 change should be inviting the best players, regardless of which team they play for. Does having a guy from St. Louis or Toronto really ensure that more fans from those cities will watch? Maybe having the best players would make the game more meaningful and draw in some casual fans, which is a better group to target with this type of exhibition contest anyway.


Phoenix Coyotes

The All-Star break is meant as a time to celebrate, but one team received plenty of unwanted attention during the weekend in Montreal, and that was the Phoenix Coyotes. The franchise has become the focal point of financial woes for the league, and questions about its future abound.

But what about the results on the ice this season in the desert? Phoenix is arguably the most surprising team at the All-Star break. The Coyotes went into the weekend in fifth place in the Western Conference with 53 points despite a roster full of youth.

The Coyotes are surging, but they have been without outstanding goaltending or a dominant rookie campaign from the much-hyped Kyle Turris. In fact, little stands out statistically for these Coyotes, but Wayne Gretzky deserves to be on the short list for coach of the year honors, especially considering the off-ice distractions.


1. Sharks (last week: 1)

Trigger man Dan Boyle might be the best acquisition of the offseason.

2. Bruins (3)

There’s a case for Marc Savard, but Zdeno Chara has been dominant on the back end.

3. Red Wings (2)

Ty Conklin has proved to be as good a theft from Pittsburgh as Marian Hossa.

4. Capitals (4)

Alex Ovechkin isn’t on pace for 60 goals, but the schedule will give him a chance.

5. Flames (8)

Jarome Iginla continues to do it all for the Flames, who are surging toward elite status.

6. Blackhawks (6)

Nikolai Khabibulin was put on waivers, yet he has been great in tandem with Cristobal Huet.

7. Canadiens (5)

Robert Lang has been a surprise leading scorer, but Carey Price has been excellent when healthy.

8. Devils (7)

Zach Parise is having a breakout season, but Scott Clemmensen has been a savior in net.

9. Flyers (9)

Can Jeff Carter keep pace with Ovechkin in the Richard Trophy race?

10. Rangers (10)

They can be inept offensively, but Nikolai Zherdev has added some juice to the attack.



1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals: The guy was again a one-man party at an otherwise vanilla All-Star weekend.

2. Jarome Iginla, Flames: Can he help the Flames make it a three-team race for West supremacy?

3. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins: He and Alex Kovalev put on a show playing together in the All-Star game.


1. Claude Julien, Bruins: Coaching an All-Star game in Montreal had to be interesting for the ex-Habs boss.

2. Todd McLellan, Sharks: The former Detroit assistant got to have Mike Babcock as his No. 2 for a weekend.

3. Bruce Boudreau, Capitals: AHL Hall of Fame induction is a nice consolation for missing the All-Star festivities.


1. Steve Mason, Blue Jackets: He already has a franchise’s postseason hopes on his 20-year-old shoulders.

2. Tim Thomas, Bruins: How much more of the workload will he assume as the postseason nears?

3. Niklas Backstrom, Wild: Top teams in the West don’t want to face him in the first round.


Now showing: Claude Lemieux, Sharks

Talk about the anti-prospect - Lemieux hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2002-03 season. The 43-year-old forward is back, and the Sharks hope he can provide a little of that playoff mojo he’s so famous for.

Coming soon: Peter Forsberg, ???

Let’s see - Mats Sundin, Brandon Shanahan, Claude Lemieux… any other past-their-prime stars out there? Oh yeah, the Forsberg Watch is just getting started, but the chances he can stay healthy are slim.

Show’s over: Danny Briere, Flyers

The saga with Briere’s injured groin continues - he has missed 31 of the team’s past 32 games and now he’s out another month because of surgery.

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