Adam Gretz

2021 NHL All-Star Game
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Florida Panthers to host 2021 NHL All-Star Game

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Friday that the NHL All-Star Game will be making its return to Florida next season when the Panthers play host to the 2021 game.

All-Star Weekend 2021 will take place at BB&T Arena on Jan. 29-30. Bettman hinted during his Friday press conference that the event may have an “international flavor” to it. Talks with the NHLPA are still on-going.

It will be Florida’s second time hosting the All-Star weekend after previously hosting it during the 2002-03 season.

That game was notable for a couple of reasons.

For one, it was the first time an NHL All-Star Game (or any NHL game for that matter) was decided by a shootout with the Western Conference winning by a 6-5 score. It was a sign of things to come as the league would eventually transition to that tie-breaking procedure for the start of the 2005-06 season.

Atlanta Thrashers forward Dany Heatley scored four times and was named MVP.

It was also the year that Panthers defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, voted into the game as a starter, was traded by the host team just two days before the All-Star Game. While he played in the game, he did not participate in the Skills Competition because he did not want to wear the jersey of a team (the Panthers) he no longer played for. You can read all about that entire series of events in this previous PHT Time Machine. Ozolinsh was one of two Panthers in that game, joining Olli Jokinen.

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.

PHT Time Machine: Looking back at the 1988 NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis

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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 to February 9, 1988, the most recent time the St. Louis Blues played host to the NHL All-Star Game. 

With the St. Louis Blues playing host to the NHL All-Star Game for the third time in franchise history this weekend, we wanted to take a quick look back to the most recent time they hosted it during the 1987-88 season.

It ended up being a 6-5 overtime win for the Wales Conference, a game that was highlighted by six points — including a hat trick and the game-winning goal — for Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux.

Let’s dig into it.

The format and the uniforms

The 1987-88 season marked the return of the traditional NHL All-Star game after the league took a break during the 1986-87 season for Rendez-Vous ’87, a two-game series in Quebec that saw the NHL All-Stars play against the Soviet Union team (they split the series with the Soviets winning 8-7 on aggregate).

For 1988, it was back to the Wales Conference vs. the Campbell Conference, as it had been for the previous 11 All-Star Games.

This was also two years before the NHL’s very first All-Star skills competition, which would not be introduced until the 1990 game in Pittsburgh.

So let’s talk about the uniforms because — well — these left something to be desired. The NHL made a minor change to them by replacing the “Wales” and “Campbell” diagonal script across the front with the NHL logo. To call them bland would be an understatement. Here we see Dave Poulin, Ron Hextall, and Kjell Samuelsson modeling them before the game, sharing the exact amount of excitement these uniforms deserve.

Look at Hextall’s pads!

The beginning of the end of the Oilers’ dynasty

The Edmonton Oilers were on their way to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years and understandably had the largest presence at the game.

Glen Sather served as coach, while the Oilers had a league-high six players in the game: Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, and Grant Fuhr.

Gretzky, Kurri, Lowe, and Fuhr were starters.

But while the Oilers were still at the top of the NHL, their dynasty was starting to develop some cracks.

Defenseman Paul Coffey had been traded to Pittsburgh just a few months earlier (he started for the Wales Conference), while Gretzky would be traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the end of this season. The Oilers would still win another Stanley Cup in 1990 and play in a couple of of Campbell Conference Finals, but this season was one of the last times they were truly at the height of their power as an NHL dynasty.

Twenty-three future Hall of Famers on the ice

Every All-Star is a collection of amazing talent, and this one had a ton of the game’s all-time giants, including 23 future Hall of Famers.

Al MacInnis, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille, Grant Fuhr, Wayne Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, Dale Hawerchuk, Mark Messier, Denis Savard, Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk, Paul Coffey, Mario Lemieux, Denis Potvin, Michael Goulet, Ray Bourque, Mark Howe, Cam Neely, Mike Gartner, Pat LaFontaine, Larry Robinson, Peter Stastny, and Patrick Roy.

Mario Lemieux truly begins to breakout, dominates game

This was Lemieux’s fourth season in the NHL and it was already clear that there was something special about him.

He had already won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, won the Lester B. Pearson award in 1986, had played in two other All-Star Games, and had two top-four finishes in Hart Trophy voting. He was great. But at this point his team still stunk (trading for Coffey helped turn that around) and he was still mostly playing in Gretzky’s shadow.

But the 1987-88 season was when that all started to change.

Lemieux would go on to lead the league in goals and total points for the first time in his career, while also winning his first MVP award even though the Penguins missed the playoffs (no player on a non-playoff team has won it since).

He also completely took of the All-Star game with what was then a record-setting six points (factoring into every goal his team scored!), including a hat trick and the game-winning goal in overtime.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

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.

Stunning numbers at the NHL All-Star break

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what has stood out to us as we enter the All-Star break.

No goals for Charlie McAvoy. In each of his first two years of his career McAvoy scored seven goals and averaged a 10-goal pace per 82 games. Pretty good numbers for a defenseman, and especially one that was only 20 and 21 years old and limited by injuries in both seasons. So far this year? He has zero goals in his first 48 games and recently faced some harsh criticism from his coach. He enters the All-Star break as the only player in the NHL to have at least 70 shots on goal without scoring. There are only three other players with at least 50 shots on goal and zero goals (Brett Kulak, David Savard, and Jordie Benn). Based on his career shooting percentage he would have already scored six goals on the same number of shots had he maintained that same level. Say what you want about his overall performance, but there is a ton of bad puck luck going on here.

Columbus’ goaltending goes from question mark to strength. The most stunning development of the season, perhaps. After losing Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency the Columbus Blue Jackets rolled the dice on the unproven duo of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Their performance was always going to help make-or-break their season. They are making the season right now. They enter the All-Star break with the NHL’s second-best 5-on-5 save percentage (.932) and the NHL’s third-best all situations save percentage (.917). That performance is the biggest reason the Blue Jackets are actually ahead of their points pace from a year ago despite losing Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel in free agency, and then being crushed by injuries once the season began.

Red Wings’ historically bad season continues. They enter the All-Star break with a minus-90 goal differential in their first 51 games. Only 16 teams in the history of the league have had a worse mark through 51 games. It is the NHL’s worst mark since the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators (a second-year expansion team that only won 14 out of 84 games) had a minus-103 mark at the 51-game mark.

Alex Ovechkin marches on. He continues his pursuit of the NHL’s all-time goal mark with 34 goals in the Capitals’ first 49 games for the Capitals. Given his age (34), it is an almost unprecedented performance. The only players over the age of 30 in league history to score more goals through 49 games are:

  • Mario Lemiuex (45 goals at age 30 during the 1995-96 season)
  • Dave Andreychuck (38 goals age 30 during the 1993-94 season)
  • Ovechkin (36 goals at age 33 during the 2018-19 season)
  • Peter Stastny (35 goals at age 31 during the 1987-88 season)

At his current pace he would score 55 goals in 81 games this season and would be the third-best goal-scoring season of his career. At age 34. Only 13 different players (including Ovechkin) in league history have ever scored more than 50 goals in a season after turning 30 years old. John Buyck (51 goals at age 35) is so far the only one to do it after turning 34 years old. Ovechkin is on track to do it this season.

Panarin’s pace. The Rangers’ big free agent acquisition is currently on pace for 45 goals and 117 points in 81 games this season. In the entire history of the Rangers’ franchise here is the list of player that have scored at least 45 goals and 110 points in the same season: Jaromir Jagr (2005-06). That is it. That is the list.

Jean Ratelle hit 46/109 during the 1971-72 season, while Vic Hadfield had 50/106 during the the same season.

When you add in how large of a role he has played in the Rangers’ offense (scored or assisted on 45 percent of their goals; on the ice for 56 percent of them) it is one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise.

Connor and Leon. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enter the All-Star break as the top two point producers in the NHL. The two of them have been on the ice for literally half (50.3 percent) of the Oilers’ 155 goals so far this season. The Oilers score 6.02 goals per 60 minutes with them on the ice in all situations, and 3.67 during 5-on-5 play. Without the two of them on the ice together those numbers drop to 1.67 and 1.66 respectively. It is still a two-man team.

Pacific Division mayhem:  There are five teams at the top of Pacific Division (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Arizona, and Vegas that are separated by, literally, one point.

None of these teams enter the All-Star break higher than 13th in the NHL in points percentage, and not one of them would be higher than third place in any other division in hockey.

Another Vezina caliber year for Ben Bishop. He has been a finalist three different times, and is once again putting together an argument to be at the top of the list this season. His .927 save percentage for the season is fifth best in the NHL, while his .925 mark in two-and-a-half seasons since joining the Stars in free agency is the best in the NHL among the 31 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games during that stretch. The Stars can’t score and rely on their goalies — Bishop and Anton Khudobin — to help carry them. They are. Right to a playoff spot.

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.

Brady Tkachuk replaces Auston Matthews at 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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Due to what the Toronto Maple Leafs are calling a lingering wrist injury, Auston Matthews will not participate in the 2020 NHL All-Star game this weekend in St. Louis, the league announced on Wednesday.

He will be replaced on the roster and in the skills competition by Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.

Even though he will not participate in any of the events or the game itself, Matthews will still travel to St. Louis for the weekend.

Matthews is in the middle of a career year for the Maple Leafs and has already scored 34 goals and 57 points in his first 49 games of the season. He has scored at least 34 goals every year he has been in the league and is already just six goals away from matching his career high. The only thing that has kept him from hitting the 40-goal mark every season is injuries. It is not yet known if this injury will sideline him for any games when the Maple Leafs return from the break, but he has not missed any games as of yet this season. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Matthews’ agent said the injury has been bothering Matthews for the past three weeks. The Maple Leafs have not played since Jan. 18 when they lost at home, 6-2, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Their next game is on Jan. 27 against the Nashville Predators.

The Maple Leafs will still be represented by forward Mitch Marner and goalie Frederik Andersen.

As for Tkachuk, the 2018 No. 4 overall pick is in his second year with the Senators. In 48 games he has 15 goals and 27 points.

He will join teammate Anthony Duclair at the game, as well as his older brother, Matthew Tkachuk, who will be there representing the Calgary Flames.

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.

Paul Maurice and the Jets could really use a win right now

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This was always going to be a challenging season for the Winnipeg Jets.

After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final during the 2017-18 season, they regressed last season and opened this season with a makeshift defense due to offseason departures and the still unsettled situation regarding Dustin Byfuglien. At times, and especially recently, the defense has looked has looked exactly like the patchwork unit that it is. They get bombarded on the shot chart, and had it not been for some superhuman play from starting goaltender Connor Hellebuyck over the first couple of months their playoff chances for this season might already be in the toilet.

But they’re not.

They are still — for now — very much in the Western Conference Wild Card race, and with a win on Wednesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets could enter the All-Star break and bye week just a single point back of a playoff spot. Considering the state of the defense and the way the team has actually played at times, that would be a decent conclusion to the first half of the season.

It would also probably be a big win for coach Paul Maurice, whose seat seems to get warmer with each and every loss. And the losses have been piling up recently. After losing in Carolina on Tuesday night, 4-1, the Jets have lost five of their past six and are just 6-11-2 in their past 19 games.

On Tuesday, it was another tough start that saw the Jets give up three early goals and have to play from behind again. When asked about another slow start, Maurice was defiant in saying there was no slow start (using an expletive in the process) and instead defended his team’s effort and the way they played. It was a little surprising given how rough this recent stretch has been, especially the past three games when they’ve been outscored by a 16-4 margin. Listening to him talk about the team’s effort and how they “played their asses off,” it almost sounded like a coach that is resigned to his team being undermanned at a major position (defense) and that things are just unraveling. It was basically: They did everything they could, and this is all they had.

Given the current situation and the recent slide, it’s enough to wonder if Thursday’s game against Columbus is approaching must-win territory. It is believed that Maurice’s contract expires at the end of this season, and as Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun pointed out after Tuesday’s game, it’s really hard to see the Jets giving him another contract extension after two straight years of declining results.

If there were ever a time for a team to consider a change, wouldn’t this be it? A coach in the final year of his contract, for a struggling team that seems to have hit its ceiling with that coach, while the team itself is still flirting with a playoff spot. Not to mention the fact that after Wednesday they have a week-and-a-half and an opportunity to hit the reset button coming out of the break.

Whether or not that would make a difference is certainly up for debate. There is probably not a coach or prospective coach in the league that can turn this defense as constructed into a contender, and no matter who is behind the bench is going to have to rely on the forwards being able to outscore their opponents and hope for Hellebuyck to return to his Vezina/MVP level from the first couple of months.

It just seems like the Jets and their coach are at a crossroads for this season, and maybe beyond.

It is difficult — and maybe even silly — to put so much emphasis on one regular season game in the middle of January, but Thursday’s game against Columbus seems like it has the potential to dramatically shift things one way or another for the Jets.

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.