PHT All-Star Time Machine: Gordie Howe’s fight, Sandis Ozolinsh trade

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at a couple of truly bizarre and strange NHL All-Star Game moments.

The NHL All-Star Game has taken on many forms throughout its existence. There is the current 3-on-3 divisional format that we have now. There was the short-lived by sometimes absurd fantasy draft spectacle. We also had more traditional conference vs. conference setup, and the sometimes easily forgotten North America vs. The World format that was held between 1998 and 2002.

Most of those formats have come over the past 25 years as the league has tried anything and everything to spice up a game that really hasn’t had much intrigue on the ice.

In the early days, the game had plenty of spice on its own and a format that was completely different from even any of the modern ones.

[Related: Gretzky to Lemieux, the ‘called shot’, and the ’97 NHL All-Star Game]

The NHL first started playing an annual All-Star game during the 1947-48 season and instead of featuring two teams of the league’s best players going against one another, it featured one team of All-Stars (comprised of the league’s end of season first-and second-team All-Stars that were voted on from the year before) competing against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

It was also played before the season, and not in the middle of it.

That format went mostly unchanged until the NHL expanded in 1967 with two exceptions — in 1951 and 1952 the NHL’s first and second team All-Stars from the previous year played against one another. When both of those games ended in a tie (which did not please fans), the league went back to the original All-Stars vs. Stanley Cup champions format.

Those games were interesting, and despite some early dominance from the All-Star side the Stanley Cup winners held their own against the league’s best by winning seven games of the 19 matchups, with three ties mixed in. They were also competitive and physical.

Fights sometimes happened

In today’s All-Star Game there is almost no physical contact, anything even resembling defense is basically frowned upon, penalties are almost unheard of and go years without happening, and the idea of two players actually dropping the gloves and fighting in one is completely preposterous.

But when we’re talking about 1940s and 1950s hockey we’re talking about an entirely different era of sports when players were just simply wired differently. Not better. Not worse. Just different. This game was taken seriously and was played more like an actual hockey game instead of an exhibition of skill and a celebration of the game’s best talent.

Players were sometimes out for blood. Literally.

In the second ever All-Star Game in 1948 (featuring the NHL All-Stars vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs) there was a doozy of a confrontation between Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe and rugged Maple Leafs defensemen Gus Mortson.

Howe’s style of play is well known and his name is synonymous with “old school hockey, but if you are unfamiliar with Mortson just consider that he was the second most penalized player in the NHL between 1946 and 1959 (the span of his career in the league) and was nicknamed “Old Hardrock.”

In the second period the two players squared off in wild fight that continued in the penalty box (there was only one penalty box at the time that both teams shared) until officials decided to have them serve their penalties on their respective benches just to separate them … in an All-Star game.

This was not the only actual fight in an All-Star Game.

A few years later in the 1953 game, a 3-1 win for the All-Stars over the Montreal Canadiens, Bert Olmstead and Red Kelly fought in a game that featured 11 penalties!


Eleven penalties!

The Sandis Ozolinsh game

Moving forward to a more recent generation, I think my favorite All-Star Game story might center around the 2003 game (the return of the conference vs. conference format following the North America vs. The World experiment) because of what happened with defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.

It is truly one of the most bonkers All-Star stories you will ever get.

The situation: The Florida Panthers were hosting the 2003 game and despite a down year on the ice had two representatives in the game, including Ozolinsh who was voted into the game as an Eastern Conference starter (Olli Jokinen was their other player in the game).

At the time, Ozolinsh was one of the NHL’s elite offensive defensemen and a bonafide All-Star due to his play with the puck. He was tremendous and received more votes than every player in the Eastern Conference that season except for Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux.

Keep all of this mind, because it is worth repeating: A team going nowhere that season, hosting the All-Star Game, with one of the starters voted into the lineup for what might have been one of the few highlights of the year. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Then, just two days before the game, the Panthers traded Ozolinsh to the Anaheim Ducks for a return that included Matt Cullen (who is still playing in the NHL today), Pavel Trnka, and a draft pick.

This, obviously, created an unbelievable storyline around the game. Just look at the sub-head from the Palm-Beach Post during the All-Star weekend.

Of course something like this involved Mike Keenan, who was coaching the Panthers at the time.

Once the trade was completed there was still the matter of what should happen with Ozolinsh who was now no longer a member of the Florida Panthers or the Eastern Conference.

Ozolinsh considered sitting out the game entirely but opted to play, but only after skipping the skills competition the previous night.

Again, from the Palm-Beach Post


The other factor in skipping the skills competition is that he would have had to have worn a team jersey, and since he was still a member of the Eastern Conference team and voted in as a member of the Panthers he would have had to have worn a Panthers jersey. He did not want to wear a jersey of a team he was no longer a part of. That was not an issue during the game when teams simply wore uniforms with the NHL emblem and not their team.

When Ozolinsh was introduced before the game he received a thunderous applause from the crowd and ended up playing more minutes than any other player in the game.

More fallout:

Adding to the mayhem was the fact that Ozolinsh and his wife had just closed on a house in Florida … the morning of the trade.

It the end, it ended up working out well for Ozolinsh as he went to Anaheim and played a huge role on a Ducks team that made a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

As for the Panthers and Iron Mike? They won 24 games that year and Keenan was fired 15 games into the 2003-04 season, ending what was a mostly disastrous run with the team over parts of three seasons.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
 Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

 Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
 The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
• The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen
• The Mighty Ducks and the most insane pregame introduction ever
• When the Detroit Red Wings’ Russian Five was not celebrated
• Paul Holmgren’s crazy year of Philadelphia Flyers blockbusters
Remembering the Nassau Coliseum Santa Brawl

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Previewing the 2019-20 Nashville Predators

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

Better or worse: Dumping P.K. Subban‘s contract for little return to clear salary cap space for Matt Duchene is an interesting move because it deals from a position of strength (defense) to fill a position of need (forward). The Predators had one of the worst power play units the NHL has seen in quite some time and desperately needed another playmaker up front. Duchene’s contract carries some long-term risk, but it satisfies a short-term need and they still have a really good defense even without Subban. Duchene’s addition, combined with a full season from Mikael Granlund (who should be better than he was after joining the team from Minnesota at the trade deadline) makes this forward group significantly deeper. That probably makes the team a little better overall.

Strengths: It is still on the back end. Even without Subban the Predators still have an outstanding defense with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm as the established veterans, while also having 2016 first-round pick Dante Fabbro starting to emerge. Behind them, the team has No. 1 caliber goalies in Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Rinne is 36 and is going to start passing the torch to Saros, but he hasn’t really slowed down much and is still capable of playing at a high level.

Weaknesses: Until proven otherwise it is the power play unit because there was nothing productive about this unit a year ago. They finished the regular season 31st in success rate, were one of the worst power play units in the league at getting shots on goal, and then followed up that performance by getting completely shut out in their Round 1 loss to the Dallas Stars. You don’t need a great power play unit to win, but you still need to get something from it. The Predators received nothing from theirs all year.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Peter Laviolette is an outstanding coach with a great track record of success in the NHL. He wins a lot, he has taken three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, and his name is on it once. You can do a heck of a lot worse than him behind the bench, and if you are going to fire someone with that resume you better be darn sure you are getting a clear upgrade. But coaches like him get fired all the time, especially if ownership thinks the team has become stale. The Predators may not be at that point just yet, but the 2018-19 season was a bit of a regression and a small (emphasis on small) step in the wrong direction. Because of that we will put Laviolette’s hot seat rating at a 5, with a chance to move in either direction.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Juuse Saros, Mikael Granlund, and Viktor Arvidsson are three players worth watching.

Saros just because he is going to start seeing more playing time in net. He is probably already good enough to be a clear No. 1 on a significant number of teams around the league and gives the Predators a great 1A and 1B situation with Rinne. He has a .920 save percentage so far in the NHL and is the team’s long-term solution in goal.

Granlund was a huge addition at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild but really struggled after the trade, managing just two goals and five assists in 22 games (regular season and playoffs combined). He is better than that and has shown the ability to be a 70-point player in the league. If the Predators can get that version of him it could be a game-changer for their offense.

Speaking of game-changers on their offense, Arvidsson has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers in the league since he became a regular in the Predators’ lineup. The 2018-19 season was his best performance to date, scoring 34 goals in only 58 games. That is close to a 50-goal pace over 82 games. Can he repeat that performance this season?

Playoffs or lottery: Definitely the playoffs, it is just a matter of what kind of playoff team they are going to be. On paper, this still looks like a Stanley Cup contender and potentially one of the best teams in the NHL. They had the same look a year ago only to take a small step back during the regular season and then quietly exit in Round 1 of the playoffs.

Predators being bold with term, but are they being smart?
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins get yet another bargain with Carlo’s 2-year deal

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Another day, another team-friendly contract handed out by the Boston Bruins.

After re-signing Charlie McAvoy to a bargain three-year contract over the weekend, the Bruins announced on Tuesday morning that they have re-signed restricted free agent defender Brandon Carlo to a two-year deal that will pay him $2.85 million per season.

Carlo was the last of the Bruins’ restricted free agents and his signing wraps up a fairly successful summer for the team’s front office.

The Bruins managed to get McAvoy, Carlo, and Danton Heinen (their three RFA’s) re-signed for a combined salary cap hit of $10.5 million. Given how important all three players figure to be (and especially the first two) that is a major win for the team. They will no doubt be looking at significant pay raises when all of these bridge deals expire in a couple of years, but in the short-term it allows the Bruins to keep together a Stanley Cup caliber team while also having the flexibility to add to it later in the year. With Carlo’s deal complete the Bruins still have around $1.15 million in salary cap space, via CapFriendly.

Carlo is not going to provide much offense from the blue line, but he is one of the team’s steadiest defensive players and a valuable part of their blue line.

• Bruins get another major bargain contract with Charlie McAvoy
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Blues get names engraved on Stanley Cup

St. Louis Blues

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

• It is official, the Stanley Cup now includes the names of the St. Louis Blues for the first time. (St. Louis Blues)

• Speaking of the Blues, the party is now over as they get back to work. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• What is (and is not) distracting about Taylor Hall‘s contract situation for the New Jersey Devils. (All About The Jersey)

• Taking a look at some pre-season pre-draft rankings for the 2020 class. (TSN)

• Ten questions for the Columbus Blue Jackets entering training camp. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Golden Knights veterans share stories from their first NHL training camps. (Sin Bin Vegas)

• Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan wants to re-sign both Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, but is that realistic? (NBC Washington)

• Inside Connor McDavid‘s NHL political awakening. (ESPN)

• Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich just wants to prove that he can be a starter in the NHL. (Flames Nation)

• Why Philadelphia Flyers defender Shayne Gostisbehere is saying sorry to Wayne Simmonds. (NBC Philadelphia)

• It is now or never for goalie Tristan Jarry with the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Tribune-Review)

• What going to salary arbitration means for a player’s long-term outlook with a team. (Anaheim Calling)

ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NBC Sports NHL Player Survey: Commissioner for the day

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When NHL players descended on Chicago earlier this month for the annual Player Media Tour NBC Sports bestowed upon them the power of league commissioner for a day. Putting themselves in Gary Bettman’s shoes, we asked the players what changes they would make to the game on or off the ice. Escrow was an obvious choice, but we wanted the players to get a little more creative than that.

Changing overtime and the offside review were popular answers, but there were also some interesting ideas to come out of the exercise, like what Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had to say.

Here’s what the players told us when we asked them, “You’re NHL Commissioner for the day. What change, on or off the ice, would you make and why?”

John Klingberg, Dallas Stars: “Get rid of the escrow. That’s an easy one. And get rid of the offside [review].”

P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils: “I’d like to see less penalties. I’m a little bit biased, I like the older school game. When I sit back and watch the old NHL and watching guys like Pavel Bure and [Sergei] Fedorov still put up the numbers that they did with guys draped all over them, sometimes in the league we forget what those guys had to go through to earn the numbers and the seasons that they put together. I think sometimes we go a little bit too far this way. But nobody’s perfect. … Maybe just let the guys play a little bit more, let a little bit more stuff go. Every game there’s a controversy of some sort and it doesn’t need to be that way.”

Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights: “I’m pretty happy for the refs to get a little bit more help, to be able to watch replays so it’s a fair game for everyone. After that, just make sure you have a good relationship with the players. I think that’s a big thing that they’re respectful from both sides and both parties. That’s something which I think we have with [the league].”

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars: “I’d probably get rid of the trapezoid.”

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: “I would take away the offside challenge because now every time you score a goal you’re looking at the referee [waiting for a signal] and you jump on the bench still waiting, waiting. They can cancel it at any moment. That’s not good, especially in intense games. Sometimes you score a goal and [the team] challenges and there’s a TV timeout and it just kills the speed of the game and kills the momentum, too. I know it’s helping sometimes but I don’t think it’s supposed to be like this, when you score a goal and you’re still waiting for the ref to decide if it’s allowed or not. You can’t really get the full emotions of scoring a goal — especially if you get a 2-on-1, for example, and you have a pass from behind and you don’t know how your feet were [crossing the blue line]. I don’t think it makes sense.”

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: “I always say just because our travel has been so ridiculous these last bunch of years I would change the schedule into little weekend series, similar to baseball. Let’s say you go to Winnipeg, you play them three times. You go to Dallas, you play them three times and you don’t go back there. We’ve had so many road trips going somewhere, coming back, going somewhere, coming back — just one game here, two games there, one game there. We’re always practicing, driving to the airport, flying. To me, that’s one of the things maybe other teams, at least in the East, don’t deal with as much as we do.”

Derek Stepan, Arizona Coyotes: “As a centerman let the offensive center on a power play get to choose what circle he gets to take the draw on, and that’s after the team has already put their guys on the ice. Maybe you can catch more centerman on their off side.”

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets: “I would change no offside, so no blue lines. I think that would make the game a lot more fun, especially if you’re an offensive guy. I think the fans would like that, maybe a lot more goals, open up the game a little bit more.”

Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers: “I would probably [remove] the offside [review]. It slows the game down. It takes momentum away from the game. It’s a fast game and they’re trying to slow it down.”

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres: “I’d put more than just two games in Sweden. I would have probably around 20 games.”

Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets: “The Olympics. For small countries like where I’m from, Denmark, it’d be an honor to play in the Olympics one day. We’ve never made it. I think we have a very good chance to make it next time and not being able to play in those [games] if we were to make it would not be fun.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: “Smaller nets, bigger equipment for the goalies. Five-on-five overtime, six-on-six.”

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: “I would change the dress code. It wouldn’t be no dress code, I think it would be more casual. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie every game, kind of like the NBA a little bit. Probably more like the NFL.”

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: “[Auston Matthew’s] a stylish guy. Me, I’m not that stylish. I like wearing suits. [I’d like to see] for some of the guys to express more of their personality. You see the basketball guys walk in, some of them wear suits, some of them wear those fun outfits that really gets people talking. That might be a good thing to implement.”

Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings: “I would extend 3-on-3 overtime to 10 minutes.”

Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes: “Longer overtimes. I think 3-on-3 is super exciting, and shootouts are exciting, too, but 3-on-3 comes with so many opportunities and so many chances. I think if you extended it even a couple of minutes you’d have more games decided in OT rather than having it go to a shootout.”

Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames: “I’d make the nets bigger so I can score more.”

• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.