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Why the NHL should move the All-Star Game to the preseason

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Note: this isn’t the first time I’ve made this argument, but I think it’s worth another look (and I’ll provide some new supporting reasons for why it might work).

There are plenty of critics of the NHL All-Star Game (and similar contests in other sports) and with good reason. When you take the necessity and danger out of a sports contest – especially in a violent sport like hockey or football – the excitement level drops quite a bit. Even the most dazzling plays seem ordinary because they happen in an exhibition game.

Brendan Shanahan and the NHL already accomplished their goal of adding some much-needed buzz and drama to the event by instituting a Fantasy Draft, which takes place on Friday. (Check out the teams Joe and I drafted during PHT’s own Mock Draft.)

But that doesn’t mean it cannot be more fun and cannot see even more improvements. I think the NHL (or many other sports leagues) would greatly benefit by moving its all-star game to the preseason. Here are a few reasons why doing so would add another helping of pizazz to the contest.

Limiting the impact of injuries

The list of players participating in this weekend’s event is an astounding collection of talent, but injuries kept some of its biggest names out of the game. There’s no Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Jarome Iginla and so on because of wear and tear or worse.

Obviously off-season surgeries will cause some problems, but I’m guessing there will be far less issues in September or early October than late January.

Heck, if you offer players a week off from training camp to participate, you might get close to 100 percent attendance.

Higher demand when supply is low

When do hockey fans (and fans of other sports) crave their sport the most: before a single game has been played or more than halfway through the season? Why not collect the sport’s biggest stars when people miss them the most?

Interesting format opportunities

One cool idea that could work better in the preseason: Defending Stanley Cup Champions vs. All-Stars. Take the last Cup winner for example. Gather Dustin Byfuglien and other departing members along with remaining Chicago Blackhawks together for one last hurrah. Present them their championship rings and let them play against a collection of big names to test the chemistry vs. high-end talent question. Benefit from the ratings you’d probably garner when one big market such as Chicago tunes in to see their beloved champs together one more time.

Hype up the upcoming season, particularly the Premiere Games

There are people who wonder if the season-opening overseas Premiere Games are a failed experiment, but maybe they just need more build-up? The league could use the All-Star Game to generate buzz for the opening of the season and raise awareness for those first few games, which often air during odd hours of the day in North America.

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Anyway, those are some reasons why a preseason All-Star Game might be better for the NHL. What do you think? Should the league hold in the preseason, after the season or keep it the same way? Let us know in the comments.

Former Flyers goalie Heeter signs with Detroit’s AHL team

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The Red Wings added some goalie depth on Monday, agreeing to terms with journeyman Cal Heeter.

Heeter, 27, broke in with the Flyers organization a while back and made his big-league debut in ’13-14, appearing in one game.

Since then, he’s bounced around the ECHL, AHL (with the Toronto Marlies) and, last season, split his time between Hamburg of the German League and Zagreb Medvescak of the KHL.

By itself, this signing isn’t especially noteworthy, as Heeter projects to be an American League mainstay next year.

But the contract is kind of interesting when looking and the big-picture goalie situation in Detroit. The Wings now have Heeter, Petr Mrazek, Jimmy Howard, Jared Coreau, Eddie Pasquale and Jake Paterson all under contract for next season, which is an awful lot of goalies.

With that in mind, remember that Howard’s name has been in trade talks for quite some time.

 

Ex-NHLers Bellemore, Collins sign with KHL’s Chinese club

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HC Kunlun Red Star, the Beijing-based expansion team that will begin playing in the KHL next season, has added a pair of former NHLers.

Sean Collins, who appeared in a pair of games for the Capitals last season, and Brett Bellemore, a veteran of over 100 contests with the Carolina Hurricanes, have agreed to join the club, per Russian news outlet R-Sport.

Bellemore, 28, was originally drafted by the ‘Canes in 2007 and spent most of his professional career with the organization. He signed on with Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence last year, and appeared in 56 games.

Collins, 27, broke in with the Blue Jackets before signing with the Caps last season. He spent the majority of the year in AHL Hershey and fared well — 16 goals and 39 points in 75 games — and scored three times in the playoffs, helping the Bears advance to the Calder Cup final.

 

Report: Journeyman Santorelli signs in Swiss League

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 02:  Mike Santorelli #25 of the Anaheim Ducks looks on during a game against the Montreal Canadiens at Honda Center on March 2, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Veteran forward Mike Santorelli, who’s appeared in over 400 NHL contests over the last eight years, is headed overseas.

Per multiple reports (see here and here), Santorelli has signed with Geneve-Servette of the Swiss League. The 30-year-old spent last season with the Ducks, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 70 games but didn’t dress for any of the club’s opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

Santorelli broke into the NHL with Nashville but enjoyed his best years with Florida and Vancouver. He was a former 20-goal scorer with the Panthers and enjoyed a successful stint with his hometown Canucks in ’13-14, scoring 28 points in 49 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Santorelli is the second veteran forward to sign in the Swiss League recently. Over the weekend, fellow journeyman Kris Versteeg agreed to join SC Bern.

Jackets sign d-man Harrington, acquired in Rychel trade

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14:  Scott Harrington #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Vancouver Canucks during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 14, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Upon trading Kerby Rychel to Toronto at the draft for Scott Harrington, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Harrington was “a guy we’ve watched for a while,” and a “steady, smart [and] good defender.”

Which makes today’s move none too surprising.

On Monday, Kekalainen announced Harrington signed a one-year, two-way deal (financial terms weren’t disclosed). The contract comes after Harrington split last season between the Leafs and the AHL Marlies, appearing in 15 NHL contests.

While Kekalainen was high on Harrington, the most noteworthy thing about the acquisition is it ended a long-running saga with Rychel, the 19th overall pick in 2013. There were repeated rumblings that Rychel wanted out of town, and felt stifled by Columbus’ reluctance to make him a full-time NHLer.

For a while, Kekalainen stood firm in the face of the reports, once openly wondering where they came from. But in the end, the decision was made to part ways with the 21-year-old, the son of ex-NHLer Warren Rychel.

As for Harrington, he should compete for a spot on the Columbus blueline next season. Right now he projects to be the No. 7 or 8 guy, assuming that super prospect Zach Werenski is primed for a full-time gig in the NHL, firmly entrenched in the Blue Jackets’ top six.

In other news from Columbus today, the club has also agreed to terms with AHL forward Alex Broadhurst.

One of the pieces acquired in last summer’s Brandon Saad blockbuster, Broadhurst was a key contributor to AHL Lake Erie’s Calder Cup championship this past spring, finishing second on the club in playoff assists.