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NHL players in favor of ‘international flavor’ All-Star idea

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ST. LOUIS — Nathan MacKinnon enjoyed when the NHL All-Star Game featured North America against the World in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Something similar could be coming back next year, but with a twist.

The league is in talks with players to bring what Commissioner Gary Bettman called a ”distinct international flavor” to 2021 All-Star Weekend in South Florida. Not quite North America versus the World but more like a miniature 3-on-3 tournament with players representing the U.S., Canada and other top hockey countries.

It’s not a replacement for the Olympics, but players are largely in favor of spicing up All-Star festivities and playing for more than divisional pride.

”Ooh, that would be cool,” Canada-born Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin said. ”I wonder if that would get it even more competitive. I’m not sure. It would be interesting.”

Think about MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby playing for Canada against Americans Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane and Jack Eichel, or Sweden’s Victor Hedman, Elias Pettersson and Filip Forsberg facing off against Finland’s Patrik Laine, Aleksander Barkov and Mikko Rantanen.

”I think any time you get some country rivalries going, there’ll be a little more aggressiveness,” U.S.-born Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. ”It would be cool.”

The NHL is five years into holding a 3-on-3 All-Star tournament by division. The winning team gets to split $1 million, and the wide-open ice has proven more entertaining than the old format.

”I like the 3-on-3 the most,” said Seguin, who has made six All-Star appearances. ”I played in a couple of the 5-on-5 games and they were fun, but I think the 3-on-3 is the best.”

Given the success of the 3-on-3, it would be silly to abandon it now. But after the league and players couldn’t come to an agreement on holding a World Cup of Hockey in the winter of 2021, an international All-Star tournament would be a consolation prize.

”I don’t think anything really means as much as the Olympics, to be honest with you,” Kane said. ”But I think it’s always an honor to play for your country.”

After the International Olympic Committee didn’t give the NHL the same insurance, travel and accommodations benefits in 2018 as the previous five games, the league ended its streak of participating. And despite significant investment in and fascination with the Chinese market, there’s no guarantee NHL players go to Beijing in 2022.

”I can’t say that with certainty – not to give people false hope,” Bettman said. ”From our standpoint, we believe and our experience both with going to five Olympics and then not going to Pyeongchang tells us that going is extraordinarily disruptive to the season.”

Because the 2016 World Cup of Hockey featured a Team North American with the best age 23 and under players from the U.S. and Canada, Crosby, McDavid and MacKinnon have never played together, and neither have Matthews, Kane and Eichel. Doing so at All-Star Weekend would provide some entertainment, but Kane is still holding out hope that it can happen for real in Beijing.

”I think sometimes (NHL executives) portray that view on the Olympics and then there’s always I think some room to maybe try and figure it out,” he said. ”It’s becoming pretty close to that date where you probably need to decide if we’re going or not. It would be fun. I think we could put a pretty good American team together. Obviously some other teams would have some good young players, as well, but it would be fun to play with some of those guys.”

The 6 coaches and general managers that will impact NHL playoff race

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With the NHL All-Star break wrapping up and the second half of the 2019-20 season ready to begin, we are taking a look at some of the players, coaches, and general managers that could have the biggest impact on the Stanley Cup Playoff races and which teams make the postseason.

Here, we focus on six general managers and coaches that could stand out.

For 10 players that could impact the Stanley Cup Playoff races, click here.

1. Ken Holland (General manager), Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are outstanding. They are the best offensive duo in hockey and there probably isn’t anyone even all that close to them. For the second year in a row they are on track to finish among the top-four scorers in the league (literally top-two at the moment) while they carry an overwhelming majority of the Oilers’ offense. But two players on their own can only take an NHL team so far.

They need help, and it’s going to be up to Holland to provide it. He has some big decisions to make over the next few weeks and months, not only when it comes to the tricky situation regarding a new contract for Zack Kassian (this seems like an overpay waiting to happen) but also adding more depth to a team that can not continue to waste two superstars in the prime years of their careers.

2. Stan Bowman (General manager), Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks’ roster moves this past summer were the actions of a team and general manager that still believed it had a window to compete with its veteran core. So far, it’s hard to argue that it’s really worked. For as hot as they have been over the past few weeks they are still only on pace for 87 points this season and are currently three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Hardly an insurmountable deficit, but probably not as easy as it may seem.

The first problem: The defense is still lousy and a lot of their improvement has simply been from the goaltending performances of Robin Lehner (mostly him) and Corey Crawford. The second problem: Both goalies are UFA’s after this season, and Lehner in particular wants to be paid his fair market value. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson is also a UFA.

How does Bowman play this? His offseason makes it look like he’s not ready to punt on the remaining prime years of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. But the team also still has flaws and has a couple of pending UFA’s that might have some value. Trading Lehner and/or Gustafsson would be putting up the white flag on the season. But is the team as currently constructed good enough to truly add to for a run? The middle-ground between Stanley Cup contender and rebuilding lottery team is a terrible place to be for an NHL team.

3. John Hynes (Head coach), Nashville Predators. This might be a long-shot, but the Predators are not totally out of this yet. Yes, they still have a six-point gap between them and a wild card spot, but they also have multiple games in hand on every team they are chasing, including FIVE on the second wild card team as of Sunday. Games in hand are not wins in hand, but it helps. The two biggest things holding Nashville back this season have been goaltending and special teams. The goaltending might be out of his hands, but special teams are one area where a coach can make a noticeable impact and special teams were the one area his recent Devils teams had the most success. Let’s see what he can do here.

4. Lou Lamoriello (General manager), New York Islanders. Lamoriello hasn’t been very active since taking over as the Islanders’ general manager, with his only noteworthy trade being the acquisition of Matt Martin before the start of the 2018-19 season. The time might be here for him to do something because this team just looks like it could use something different. They are closer to the playoff bubble than you might realize, they are still a bottom-10 team offensively, and they are just 13-12-3 in the 28 games since their 17-game point streak ended. They need another scorer (maybe two?) if they are going to be a serious Stanley Cup contender.

5. Peter DeBoer (Head coach), Vegas Golden Knights. Based on what we have seen over the first half of the season the goaltending will probably be the biggest factor in Vegas’ second half, but all eyes are going to be on DeBoer given the circumstances around his hiring. Not only did he change sides in what has quickly become one of the NHL’s fiercest rivalries, but he is replacing a coach in Gerard Gallant that had taken an expansion team to the playoffs in each of its first two seasons and was only point out of a playoff spot in year three when he was fired. Gallant helped set a high bar already in Vegas, and now Golden Knights’ management is betting that DeBoer is the person to get them a Stanley Cup.

6. Joe Sakic (General manager), Colorado Avalanche. Sakic is worth a mention here because he has one of the league’s most talented teams, plenty of trade chips to deal from, and more salary cap space to play with than every team but Columbus. He could add pretty much anyone he wants to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

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

Hockey’s young stars shine in NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Young Laila Anderson delivered one of the most poignant moments of the weekend when she introduced the Blues’ four All-Stars. The players who stood out on the ice later weren’t all that much older.

Hockey’s youth was on grand display in the NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament on Saturday night, which was won by the Pacific Division. Whether it was Boston’s 23-year-old David Pastrnak earning MVP honors with six points or Vancouver’s 21-year-old Elias Pettersson scoring twice and trying a lacrosse goal, the fifth incarnation of 3 on 3 making up the All-Star Game was a showcase of the game’s present and future.

”It’s a young man’s game now in the NHL, and these guys, they’re superstars,” Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin said.

The night featured as many swear words during Green Day’s performance as saves by some of the goaltenders, who aren’t exactly in a good spot with more open ice than defense going on. Things tightened up and the final before the Pacific beat the Atlantic 5-4 and claim the $1 million prize.

”The second half, they turn it on and started to really play, which is good for the All-Star Game,” said Pastrnak, who gets a car for his four goals and two assists. ”We’re all having fun, but it comes to the end that we are all hockey players and it’s in our nature that everybody wants to win. Even if you’re playing and having fun, you still want to win.”

Along the way, there were plenty of opportunities for players to try things they ordinarily wouldn’t in a game that counts. Along with Pettersson, Chicago veteran Patrick Kane thought about celebrating his eighth NHL All-Star appearance by lifting the puck in lacrosse style before his hockey sense kicked in.

”I was thinking about it at that moment, and then I was kind of thinking that our team kind of needed a goal,” said Kane, who was cheered and booed in enemy territory. ”Then I gave away the puck anyway, so I should’ve just tried it.”

One of the most memorable parts of the night came when lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong swore multiple times during Green Day’s performance, words that could be heard in-arena but were bleeped on the TV broadcast.

”I heard a lot of F-bombs,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”I was like, is this OK?”

Before that, there were family friendly moments and reminders of the Blues’ Stanley Cup run last season. Anderson, the 11-year-old whose courageous battle with a rare immune disorder served as the team’s inspiration when winning its first Cup title, announced Blues All-Stars Ryan O'Reilly, Jordan Binnington, David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo.

”She was really good, too,” said Blues forward David Perron, who along with O’Reilly gave Anderson a hug when they were introduced. ”She had a good voice and was pretty loud and she had fun doing it, so it certainly was special for all four of us.”

St. Louis natives Jon Hamm and Jenna Fischer and Hockey Hall of Fame Blues alumni Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull spent time behind the benches as honorary captains. With less pressure and more pomp and circumstance, even usually intense Blues coach Craig Berube could relax.

”I didn’t do much coaching,” Berube said. ”I just stood there. It’s kind of nice, you just watch and watch the skill level and the talent out there and really just not have to engage too much. It’s stress-free.”

Blues fans who cheered Binnington’s success in the skills competition Friday didn’t get to see their players reach the 3-on-3 final because the Central Division lost the Western Conference semifinal 10-5 to the Pacific. Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk, who grew up in St. Louis, had two goals and two assists including the game-winner.

Pastrnak and Ottawa Senators forward Anthony Duclair each had a hat trick to help the Atlantic beat the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

”I just wanted to show what I can do,” said Duclair, whose comeback season has been one of the best stories in the NHL thus far. ”When you’re playing with the best players in the world, you’re going to make some plays.”

Those plays came fast and furious and not without some drama. After some incidents during Oilers-Flames games this season left no love lost between the heated Alberta rivals, Draisaitl could be seen – perhaps jokingly – cursing at Tkachuk after setting him up for a goal.

”It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl said with a laugh. ”We’re all here to have fun. We’re all here to have a good time and things like that, they happen in the game but this is not the time to be grumpy about anything.”

There’s plenty of time for that the rest of the NHL season.

Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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After a fun skills competition on Friday, the Pacific Division beat the Atlantic 5-4 to win the 2020 NHL All-Star Game on Saturday. David Pastrnak won the MVP, while the Pacific split that $1 million. Those results don’t capture all of the best moments of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, however.

Let’s consider some of the funny,  entertaining, and things that we’re more likely to remember than Pastrnak winning MVP (no offense, Pasta).

Laila Anderson introduces the Blues

Having Anderson introduce the Blues’ All-Star representatives was a delight. The Blues kind of owe her after Anderson was their “good luck charm,” right?

Blues fans … cheer for Patrick Kane?

Naturally, the St. Louis crowd was pulling for a Central Division team heavy on Blues. Of course, that meant they also occasionally felt the urge not to boo Patrick Kane of the rival Blackhawks. It made for a funny moment after a Kane goal:

Kane is no stranger to hearing boos at All-Star games, as Nashville fans let him have it (to John Scott’s delight) in 2016. After Saturday’s festivities, Kane explained why the boos don’t bother him that much.

“It’s all in good fun,” Kane said. “To be honest with you, sometimes you get booed, you kind of like it a little bit. It’s St. Louis and Chicago, it’s a huge rivalry. Not only in hockey, but pretty much every other sport they play against each other. I guess that’s only baseball, but… You know what? Had a lot of fun this weekend and I thought that was a pretty cool moment …”

Tkachuk to Draisaitl

“The Battle of Alberta” was put on hold (kind of?) being that Flames star-pest Matthew Tkachuk teamed up with Leon Draisaitl on the winning Pacific team.

The two engaged in an awkward exchange. Tkachuk sent a nice pass to Draisaitl in the opening game, leading to a goal. Draisaitl high-tailed it out of there, possibly while muttering a profanity at his frenemy. Afterward, Draisaitl claimed that he was just joking.

Regardless, nothing from All-Star weekend detracts from the billboard-worthy hype for the next “Battle of Alberta.” To refresh your memory, the Flames and Oilers will meet in what should be fascinating Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 games. Buckle up (and fasten your chinstrap/actually keep your mouthpiece in, Matthew).

Big weekend for Tomas Hertl

Casual hockey fans might know a lot more about Hertl. He brought laughs (and frightened chills) by wearing a Justin Bieber mask during the skills event.

Hertl followed up that style with substance. The Sharks forward scored four (often beautiful) goals in the first round, then managed the All-Star Game final’s clinching goal.

Overall, the 2020 NHL All-Star weekend provided plenty of fun, memorable moments, Tkachuk vs. Tkachuk, and a Mascot Showdown. Chalk that up as a success. If you want more information regarding the events, check the sections below.

Read up on the two first-round games:

Atlantic 9 – Metropolitan 5
Pacific 10 – Central 5

Celebrities, Skills, and more

Recent All-Star Game winners, MVPs

Winners:
2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

MVPs:
2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Memorable All-Star Game moments abound as Pacific dominates Central

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The Central Division couldn’t provide a crowd-pleasing victory, but that second game should leave hockey fans with fun memories. It also sets the stage for a fascinating All-Star Game final featuring a Battle of the Tkachuks. Ultimately, the Pacific advanced by dominating the Central 10-5.

Memorable All-Star moments

Leon Draisaitl said he’d just try to get off the ice if he shared surface with nemesis Matthew Tkachuk as a teammate. Draisaitl had to make himself scarce after Tkachuk set him up with a nice feed for a goal, then:

Rivalries don’t just add spice to the All-Star Game for players. Fans sometimes enjoy awkward-funny moments, too. It doesn’t get much better than St. Louis fans cheering for Patrick Kane helping the Central, then realizing it was Kane and resuming their boos:

Blues fans experiencing mixed Kane feelings stands as one of those things you’ll remember years from now. Even if it means feeling icky.

Pacific cruises against Central

This game featured a lot of energy, but it was one-sided.

Tomas Hertl enjoyed maybe the best performance of the first round of ASG contests. He scored four goals, shaking off that Bieber blunder. Just about all of his goals were pretty.

That said, David Rittich is in the running. He played a big role in the game being so lopsided, as Rittich stopped nine out of 10 shots. Much has been made about Rittich enjoying himself this weekend, and he performed well too.

Matthew Tkachuk had a good game (2G, 2A) alongside frenemy Draisaitl (3G, 1A). Unlike in the earlier game, the Pacific got to such a high goal total without empty-netters.

Kane probably had the best game of any Central players with two goals. Roman Josi (2A) was in the running, too, as were Mark Scheifele and Tyler Seguin (both with 1G, 1A).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.