Wild Accusations: Stepping Up At The All Star Game

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The NHL All-Star game is coming up in though it may seem that many are fickle with the event—the John Scott debacle certainly shows that, and the format change shows the NHL itself is desperately trying to rejuvenate the weekend–it’s important to remember that it is mostly a bunch of adults complaining about the event, and the event is really meant for the kids.

Now, the exact age group of kids for whom the game matters is could vary in range, but the All-Star game is certainly not for 40 to 60-year-old writers complaining in it; if you ask Jaromir Jagr, is certainly not for the players; it is the kids for whom the jerseys are bought, by whom the video games are played, and by whom the NHL All-Star game is watched.

As a kid I would watch the NHL All-Star game and I would cheer for whichever Toronto Maple Leafs player was in it. I just wanted them to do well so it would make the Leafs look good. I’ve always known that the players weren’t giving it 100%, but that’s gave me even more reason to want the Leafs to do well; because then it would look like they have the most skill in the league.

That’s why I was always so proud of Mats Sundin.

Did you know that Mats Sundin averaged 1.88 points per All-Star game? I’ve always thought that was the true definition of his ability. A lot of people knew Mats Sundin was a good hockey player. He was drafted 1st overall and he was a model of consistency his whole career—1349 NHL points in 1346 NHL games—but I don’t think many people ever had him up there as one of the elite NHL centermen during his day. Yet, almost every All-Star game he competed in, Sundin would end up being one of the point leaders (I’d also like to mention that Sundin was always the unanimous choice to captain the Swedish national teams. And those teams had Nicklas Lidstrom on them. You get picked over Lidstrom, you’re a beast).  

See, Sundin never had an upper echelon teammate in Toronto. You could argue Alexander Mogilny was upper echelon—and overall, he was—but when Mogilny was in Toronto, he was in the last 2% of his career.  So, though Mogilny and Sundin were dynamic, they both were not in their prime like, today, Kane and Toews, Perry and Getzlaf, or Crosby and Malkin; or, then, Brett Hull and Pierre Turgeon, Mario Lemieux and Jagr, or Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. So I was always very happy as a kid to see Mats Sundin, when placed with other elite players, always came out looking like he drove the play.

So for me, that’s what the All-Star game has morphed into. Yes I like to see the nice goals and the nice saves, but more than that I like to see which NHL All-Star steps up each year. We all know who the true All Stars in the league are. Guys like Patrick Kane, Alexander Ovechkin, and even though he’s not there this year, Sidney Crosby.  But I like to find one guy in each year’s game that is underappreciated, who shows his real worth in the All-Star game, when you see some skill come out that maybe you didn’t think was there before.

That said, let’s take a look at this year’s rosters and pick which player will have a breakout performance.

Ok, so from that list, let’s eliminate the guys we all already know are unreal. No matter what these guys do in the All-Star Game, they’re not going to surprise us. Take away skaters Jaromir Jagr, Steven Stamkos, Erik Karlsson, PK Subban, Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Matt Duchene, Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jonathan Toews, Dustin Byfuglien, Shea Weber, Johnny Gaudreau, Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin, Drew Doughty and goalies Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick.

Left in that list is a bunch of really good hockey players who I don’t think quite get their due. Patrice Bergeron is universally loved as one of the best two-way players in the game, but he’s a very dynamic offensive player as well.  He might never lead the league in scoring, but he shouldn’t just be considered a defensive forward by any means. Dylan Larkin is a rookie so he doesn’t get a ton of attention right now (but trust me, he will); Leo Komarov is having a heck of season but he’s there because every team needs to send an All-Star, and there’s no All-Stars on the Leafs (same thing goes for Brandon Saad and the Blue Jackets). I still don’t get the whole Ryan O’Reilly thing (If I’m the NHL, I’m sending Jack Eichel from Buffalo), and John Scott…is, well…I mean, it won’t surprise me if Scott pulls a couple nice moves, after all, he did go NCAA Div. 1 and he is in the NHL, but his involvement in this game is well documented.

Defensemen like Kris Letang and Mark Giordano have been in Norris conversation before, I think Brent Burns will be in it this year (and win it), and Aaron Ekblad will win a Norris (maybe a couple) before his career is over, but I don’t think many people have them in their “Gotta Haves” as far as D go. Roman Josi doesn’t get near enough love because he plays behind Shea Weber and Justin Faulk is a victim of his market (as is Josi, to be honest). If they played for big markets, everyone would know how good they are.

Rinne and Schneider are more victims of their markets and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one on the John Gibson  bandwagon. Bishop, I don’t even think he’s the best goalie on his own roster so that shows you how much, even I, overlook him.  As for Holtby, everyone knows how good he is playing right now, and I have him at the top of the list for a bunch of awards, but I don’t think going into the season very many had him as the best goalie (outside of Carey Price) in the NHL.

All of the players I just mentioned are really good, but a bit overlooked, but they aren’t as overlooked, in my opinion, as Nicklas Backstrom and Taylor Hall.

Backstrom probably gets thrown in the backseat because he has Alex Ovechkin taking up most of the spotlight in Washington, but this is a guy with 616 points in 620 NHL games. I don’t think anyone ever spoke about him during his 101 point campaign in 2009-2010, but that’s probably because, again, Ovechkin topped him in points for the year. To me, he’s the Eastern Conference’s Patrick Kane, but you never hear anyone talking about him in that light.

That said, he’s still not as overlooked as Taylor Hall.

You know how people talk about Taylor Hall? They talk about him as a loser. Because the Edmonton Oilers have sucked for so long. But you know who hasn’t sucked during that span? Taylor Hall.

They talk about Taylor Hall as a guy who gets hurt a lot…well, because he does. No denying that; but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an explosive hockey player.

I mean, have you seen this kid play? He plays the exact way every hockey fan wishes their favorite team played. He’s an amazing skater, fast and agile, with great hands around the net and hardnosed in the corners. He’s everything a hockey player should be, yet, he rarely, if ever, gets mentioned near the top of anyone’s “If I were starting a franchise, I’d take” list.

Name the better left wingers than Taylor Hall.

Here, I’ll do it for you: Alexander Ovechkin and Jamie Benn.

That’s it. He’s that good.

You tell me why someone who is that good is only mentioned with the caveats of “yah, but his team sucks,” or “yah, but he gets hurt a lot.”

The Oilers sucking has nothing to do with Taylor Hall. In fact, he keeps them from sucking even more (To be honest, I kind of get the injury thing…I mean, you have to find a way to stay in the line-up, but I still think he’s a dynamo).

So here’s my Wild Accusation this week: Taylor Hall is going to put on a show this weekend.

  1. The 3v3 format is going to be perfect for a guy with his speed. I’m predicting around 20-30 Doughty to Hall breakaway passes
  2. He doesn’t have an off button. Taylor Hall is the type of guy to go 110% at Men’s League; he’s not bringing his “relaxed” game to the weekend.
  3. He fits the Mats Sundin mold. He’s a real good player who hasn’t had much help, but once you put him with some really good players, he’s going to shine. Because…
  4. He’s freaking good! I bet you a lot of NHL centers would love to have him on their team and he’s going to show it this weekend.

So, that’s who I’ve got as the breakout performer. Who do you think? Who do you have showing a little extra something this All-Star game? Tweet me your response at @CoachYoungMD and we’ll see who’s right after the weekend!

What do you think?