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.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski