THE NEXT STEP NHL WILL BE TAKING NEXT YEAR

ST. LOUIS – It’s pretty clear that F-bombs were the underlying theme of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game and that didn’t even include the chorus of millions of viewers who were sitting at home and likely saying something like, “(Expletive), this is god awful.”

Even by All-Star Game standards, where the bar is basically set on the ground when it comes to competitiveness and entertainment, this was putrid. Four teams played the equivalent of one full 60-minute game of hockey and scored a total of 38 goals. Think about that for a minute. The Canadian and American women’s teams, who actually played as though they cared about the game, produced just three in 20 minutes.

And for the second straight year, the female players saved the weekend. Which is great for women’s hockey, but says about as much about how bad this event is as it does about the excellence of the women’s game. For those of you who care, and will need to refer to the written word when the results are wiped from your memory bank 10 minutes from now, the Pacific Division defeated the Atlantic Division 5-4 in the championship game and split $1 million in prize money. David Pastrnak, who was named Least Terrible Player™ and won a car for his efforts, scored six points in the tournament. So did Leon Draisaitl and Quinn Hughes, which would represent a pretty good week for all of them.

The night was not without its controversial moments. Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong kept the censors busy by dropping three F-bombs during the band’s in-game performance. As one observer noted, with their performance, Green Day gave more (expletives) than the players.

And on the ice, the heated rivalry between Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames got a little bit of juice. On the second goal of the second game, which came 2:59 into the game, Tkachuk made a no-look, between-the-legs pass to Draisaitl, who buried it. Tkachuk didn’t even look toward Draisaitl and made for the bench, while Draisaitl appeared to say “(expletive) you” to Tkachuk.

“I hope everyone realizes I was just joking around,” Draisaitl said. “I guess I expected (Tkachuk to skate after the bench). I probably would have done the same.”

As far as his part in the exchange, Tkachuk said he didn’t hear anything from Draisaitl and as far as skating back to the bench, said he wasn’t about to do a major celebration for an assist in the All-Star Game. “I don’t know if anyone else was celebrating goals tonight,” Tkachuk said. “You guys read too much into that. I have zero idea (if Draisaitl said anything). It was my first shift of the game and I was going back to the bench and we had just made it 2-0. You have to ask everyone else if they celebrated after goals. I didn’t see too much of it.”

Tkachuk has a point there. Had these guys celebrated after every goal, there might have been a spate of rotator cuff injuries among the best players in the league going into the home stretch. “It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl said about the Tkachuk pass. “Like I said all along, 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. This is not the time to be grumpy about anything. Our team, everyone here had a great time.”

Of course they did. They all held hands, sang Kumbaya and went out and put forth minimal effort. Over the three games, Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens was the only one to record a hit. It becomes clearer with every passing year that this event is essentially a mid-season waste of time. You can’t make players care about this game. Not even a $90,000 reward is enough to do it. The NHL has already said that next year’s game will have more of an “international flavor” to it, which might help. But this thing, from the Skills Competition to the three-game tournament, is broken. Badly. It’s embarrassing and it does absolutely nothing to showcase the best game in the world.

So to recap, the highlights of the weekend were the women’s game and seven-year-old Alex Letang, son of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris, who was adorable and engaging in the post-game interview area. Aside from that, nothing about this spectacle was memorable. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that having the league shut down for two weeks every four years for the Olympics is, “extraordinarily disruptive.” Meanwhile, half the league is off for five days before the All-Star Game and the other half puts its feet up for the five days after. And the league takes a four-day break to put the event on. But it’s apparently too much for the league to take a two-week break every four years.

Next year’s All-Star Game is in Florida. Instead of going to the Sunshine State for the game, perhaps the NHL could just shoot this whole event into the sun.