SAN JOSE, Calif. — The 2019 NHL All Star Weekend was about breaking barriers. It was about celebrating a thriving NHL market. It was about embracing new technology and the next wave of stars, but also about nostalgia, boos and roasts. And because Gritty showed up, it was also about everyone’s favorite orange menace.
Here’s a look back at the weekend that was.
Best: Kendall Coyne Schofield in faster skater competition
Central Division captain Nathan MacKinnon was a late scratch at All-Star Weekend with a bruised foot. Instead of nixing his spot in the NHL Skills Competition’s fastest skater category, the league did something unconventional in naming a replacement — which turned out to be highly impactful. Kendall Coyne Schofield, one of the speediest players on the U.S. women’s national team, took MacKinnon’s place and soared.
History was made and barriers were broke. It was such an honor to be the first woman to compete in the @nhl All Star Skills Competition last night. I can’t wait to see what the future holds! #NHLAllStar pic.twitter.com/Sc125oBGCx
– Kendall Coyne Schofield (@KendallCoyne) January 26, 2019
It wasn’t necessarily about her time (she posted a time of 14.346 seconds, which placed seventh of the eight-skater field) but about the reverberations for female athletes everywhere. “I knew it was a moment that was going to break a lot of barriers and a moment that would change the perception of our game,” Coyne Schofield said afterward.
The quote said it all. It’s feasible that female players could play in the actual All-Star Game in the not-so-distant future.
Worst: Miro Heiskanen scares everyone by wiping out
The Dallas Stars have had a rough season, OK? They’re in a wild-card position as of the break, but they’re still adjusting to new coach Jim Montgomery. It’s been a month since the teams’ CEO went on an expletive-filled rant to call out the team’s two star players, but it still feels like they’re in damage control mode. One of the few bright spots? Rookie sensation Miro Heiskanen.
But when the 19-year-old got his go on a national stage in the fastest skater competition … he wiped out like (well, no need to use another expletive here). Heiskanen took a nasty spill on the second turn, splaying out on the ice.
– SportsDay Stars (@dmn_stars) January 26, 2019
Heck, even Connor McDavid — who perhaps can best relate to Heiskanen as a shining star on an otherwise muddled team — cringed. “That was a bad fall,” McDavid said afterward. “It was really awkward. We were all happy he was OK. Credit to him for going back out there and putting up another pretty good time.”
Best: Brianna Decker gets paid
The Premier Passing event was premier in name only. The drill was the filler event of Friday night — drawn out, dry and completely forgettable — if not for Brianna Decker.
The U.S. women’s national team and CWHL player demonstrated the drill with ease. Too much ease. She appeared to finish in one minute, six seconds, which bested the time of the eventual winner, Leon Draisaitl (1:09) while everyone else stumbled. By Saturday morning, there was a groundswell of support for the 27-year-old Decker. Shouldn’t she deserve the $25,000 prize money? Hockey manufacturer CCM certainly thought so. The company announced on Saturday afternoon it would pay Decker $25,000 because they “understand the importance of recognizing female hockey players.” That’s not an insignificant amount of cash for a player whose salary is a fraction of her NHL counterparts’.
Worst: Decker truthers at NHL
The murmurs began Friday. Did the clock really start on time for Decker’s demo? Did she really finish ahead of Draisaitl?
On Saturday, the NHL, as well as rights holder Sportsnet, looked at the video. It turns out, Decker was a few seconds behind Draisaitl — but also still ahead of the other seven participants. Because she didn’t actually beat Draisaitl, the NHL perhaps felt it didn’t need to succumb to public pressure. Instead, the league honored Decker, along with the three other women’s players who were part of the skills event, by donating $25,000 in each of their names to charities of their choice.
Yes, the NHL was promoting inclusiveness by inviting the women to participate. No, it didn’t owe Decker anything, especially considering she was only there to demonstrate. But the kerfuffle afterward felt unnecessary and avoidable. If it left an unsavory taste, remember the women were there to promote a three-game series between the U.S. and Canada.
So you can support Decker — as well as Coyne Schofield, Renata Fast and Rebecca Johnston — by tuning in, and appreciating these elite athletes when they compete in their element.
Best: Matthews honors Marleau
Auston Matthews, 21, has a close relationship with Toronto Maple Leafs teammate (and father figure) Patrick Marleau, 39. So Matthews decided to honor him in San Jose, where Marleau played 20 years before leaving for Toronto as a free agent. Prior to his turn in the shot accuracy event, Matthews removed his Leafs jersey to reveal one with Marleau’s name and number, to the delight of the Sharks fans in the crowd as well as Marleau’s former teammates in San Jose.
– Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 26, 2019
“It was pretty cool. Patty means a lot to just about everyone that’s come through this organization. It was pretty cool of him to do that,” said Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, who took a photo with Matthews and San Jose All-Stars Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. “Of course, we should have turned [Matthews] around. We just wanted the number on the back.”
Worst: Brent Burns whiffs in hardest shot
Last season, Brent Burns competed in the NHL’s hardest shot competition. While he looks like a guy who could blast the puck, his top speed was 92.4 mph.
Fast forward a year, and maybe he’s got more than a muffin, topping out at 100.6 mph. The problem? He totally missed the net on his first attempt, bumming out the Sharks fans cheering him on.
The Save Streak might have been the most exciting component of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, thanks in large part to King Henrik. The New York Rangers goalie made 12 straight saves to defeat Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (who had eight).
Lundqvist made his eighth stop on Vasilevskiy’s teammate Steven Stamkos, and then won the event in dramatic fashion, making a save on former New York Islanders rival and current Maple Leafs star John Tavares. Outstanding goaltending and a little drama made for a memorable event.
On the other end of the goaltending spectrum was the Ducks goalie, who gave up seven goals (!) on nine shots in the first half of the Pacific Division’s NHL All-Star Game against the Central, which they’d lose 10-4. The San Jose fans watching their Sharks All-Stars eliminated by Gibson’s goaltending responded by chanting, “Ducks Suck.”
Said Gibson after the game: “It is what it is.” (You’d figure he’d be used to this shot volume, playing in Anaheim.)
Best: Penalty shot!
The Metropolitan Division earned just the third penalty shot in All-Star Game history against the Central with 4:09 left in the first half. Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones took the puck and …
Worst: Penalty no-shot
– Clay Imoo (@CanuckClay) January 27, 2019
… Jones forgot to put the “shot” in “penalty shot.” But he made up for it later with an absolutely gorgeous pass to set up a Kyle Palmieri goal.
Best: Most of the player and puck tracking technology
The NHL did another major test of its puck tracking technology with its broadcast partners, and it offered some fairly cool options. Players on the ice were identified by CGI name tag, with real-time stats like time on ice and their speed displayed. The chip inside the puck allowed for the speed of shots and passes to be conveyed instantly.
The players’ wearable technology made it possible to draw lines between defenders on the ice, showing exactly how far away they were spaced. As far as a way to collect data, player and puck tracking is going to change the way we compile stats. As a way to display that information, it showed some promise on television.
Here’s a look at those player graphics on the live broadcast pic.twitter.com/1bEDYFSeAx
– Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 27, 2019
Worst: C’mon, admit it’s the glow puck
On Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the infamous “glow puck” would not be returning, despite the shared DNA between the current puck-tracking technology and the tech used to create that glowing monstrosity in the 1990s.
While the All-Star Game broadcasts’ puck didn’t glow, it did have a distracting black “tail” that was reminiscent of the garish display of the glow puck. It was a bit much.
Best: Faces on the shot accuracy targets
Holding the NHL All-Star Game in Silicon Valley produced some innovating thinking — like jerseys literally made from recycled ocean garbage — and a cheeky emoji motif for many of the weekend’s graphics. That included digital cartoon faces rather than player headshots on display during the games.
Those cartoons also ended up in a rather hilarious place: On the targets of the shot accuracy skills competition. So players were literally shooting at the faces of Drew Doughty and Auston Matthews. (Now, imagine how much more successful these players would have been had all the targets featured Brad Marchand …)
Worst: That dumb passing challenge
Coming out of the intermission during the skills competition was the single most tedious 20 minutes of NHL All-Star Weekend: the Premier Passer event. On the one hand, it was an exemplary display of true hockey skill. On the other hand, it was a cringe-inducing snore as the NHL’s best and brightest struggled to carry the puck through elevated barriers and pass the puck into demonic little mini-nets.
You could replace this event with a three-hour long discussion of escrow, and it would be 150 percent more exciting. Please, no more of the Premier Passer event.
Sharks fans showered the Toronto star with boos all weekend, thanks to his decision last summer to sign a blockbuster free-agent contract with the Maple Leafs after an aggressive courtship by San Jose. You have to love that level of passionate pettiness.
– Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) January 27, 2019
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Obviously, a very proud fan base. They love their Sharks. They always create a great atmosphere, great environment when you come to play here on the road,” Tavares told ESPN. “I wasn’t the only one [who was booed], so I wasn’t lonely.”
C’mon, San Jose. Rare is the All-Star Game in which Sidney Crosby participates, and you’re going to boo him for, what, depriving the Sharks the Stanley Cup with a Conn Smythe-winning performance three years ago?
“I kind of expected that,” said Crosby of the jeers during his MVP presentation. “I watched last night and saw the reaction that [Kris Letang] got.”
I’VE DIED AND GONE TO HEAVEN. pic.twitter.com/ctEovn5zj2
– Gritty (@GrittyNHL) January 26, 2019
Gritty did a blazing lap in the fastest skater. Gritty was a goofball in the mascot game. We watched Gritty climb an entire section of the Shark Tank by stepping on the arm rests of chairs.
The Philadelphia Flyers mascot’s first All-Star Game was everything we wanted and more, including his parody of the Fiji Water girl on the red carpet before his display of affection for Claude Giroux.