Blake’s Takes: All-Stars and World Juniors

The takes are hot this week. We’re in the midst of the World Juniors and there have been plenty of storylines from the tournament thus far. The All-Star Game rosters were just released and I have a lot to say about that. I’ll also take a look at another gem of a press conference by the one and only John Tortorella.

1. Artemi Panrain: Good Free Agent Signing

Not much has been written about the New York Rangers this year. Through 38 games, they sit six points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild-card slot. They have been in the midst of a rebuild that and are now trending up. The signing of Artemi Panarin has been the catalyst for their improvement this season.

Panarin was arguably the crowned jewel of last summer’s free-agent class. Many thought he would reunite with former coach, Joel Quenneville, and sign with the Panthers alongside his now ex-teammate Sergei Bobrovsky. Panrain spurned the Miami sun for a New York winter. Although, his play on the ice has been scorching. He is eighth in the league in points with 51 and tied for ninth in goals 21. He leads the Rangers in goals, assists, and points and is on pace to set career highs in all three categories.

Too often we see big-name free agents fail to impress with their new teams. Panarin is putting that adage to shame with the Rangers. If he can keep this up for the duration of his contract, the Rangers will be back atop the Eastern Conference in no time.

2. Torts Goes on a Rant… Again

Add another chapter into the novel of all-time classics by Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella. Torts is well-known for his tendency to fly off the handle when it comes to speaking to the media, and well, pretty much everything. This rant is music to my ears (*kisses fingers to mimic a chef’s kiss).

For some background, Torts was upset because during a game last week against the Blackhawks, the clock operator let an extra 1.1 seconds tick off the clock in overtime. The officials refused to add the time back on the clock. Then, at the end of OT, Blue Jackets defenseman, Zach Werenski put the puck behind the end line just after time expired. If the 1.1 seconds were on the clock, Werenski would have scored the winning goal.

Torts was also upset because the Blue Jackets starting goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo, was injured on Jonathan Toews’ shootout attempt and had to be replaced by backup Elvis Merzlikins. So, because of the 1.1-second runoff, Columbus lost a point in the standings and their starting goaltender.

I do think Torts makes really good points in regard to the inability of both the referees and the replay crew in Toronto to step in and add that time back on the clock. Losing a game because of errors like those is probably infuriating.

But, seeing as I had no rooting interest, I’m happy it happened. Without it, we wouldn’t have been graced with this gem of an interview by Torts. I absolutely love that he’s willing to go ballistic in a post-game interview, especially considering most players provide zero substance in interviews.

Protect Torts at all costs.

3. Ovechkin Opts Out of All-Star Game

For the second consecutive year, Alex Ovechkin has chosen to sit out of the All-Star Game to rest his body for the second half of the season. Again, he was voted the captain of the Metropolitan Division. NHL rules state that Ovechkin will be suspended one regular-season game for skipping the All-Star Game in St. Louis.

I haven’t had a spicy take in awhile, so buckle up.

First, I think it sucks that Ovechkin wants to sit out the All-Star Game. He’s one of the league’s brightest stars because of his style of play and boisterous personality. Both shine even brighter during All-Star weekend. That being said, his health and commitment to his team, the Capitals, should be his top two priorities. If I were a fan of the Caps, I wouldn’t mind Ovi skipping the game as I would prefer he is well rested for another playoff run. So as much as it sucks that he won’t be present in St. Louis, I have no issue with his decision.

As much as I don’t mind Ovechkin opting out of the All-Star Game, I do worry that other players will follow suit. Obviously, the league agrees which is why they instituted the rule punishing players for doing so in the first place. Traditionally, healthy players don’t skip the game, and the ones that do are perennial all-stars that people have seen many times. Being selected to the All-Star Game is still an honor and I don’t see this becoming an epidemic.

What I find absolutely ridiculous is the league choosing to suspend him for skipping the game. Let me see if I understand this logic. The NHL created a rule punishing players for skipping the All-Star Game, one of the premier events on the hockey calendar. This is to ensure their top talent is present, which turns people’s attention to the game. By suspending Ovechking for one game — against either the Isaldners or Canadiens — they are preventing the fans of one of those teams from seeing him play. As a fan, I would be upset if I bought tickets to a game just to see Ovechkin and he couldn’t play. I would be furious if I bought tickets to a game to see Ovechkin and he was suspended by the league for something as stupid as opting out of the All-Star Game.

It baffles me that the league’s punishment for a player preventing the league from showcasing their talents it to prevent them from showcasing their talents in a game that actually matters. The logic makes zero sense. If the league really wants to encourage players to play in the All-Star Game, they should fine them and give that money to charity. Many players receive a bonus for making the All-Star Game, maybe they should be forced to donate that money to charity.

Regardless of what the solution is, the NHL’s decision to enforce the suspension of Ovechkin is deeply flawed and the rule should be repealed immediately. Just another example of the NHL being stuck in the stone-age.

4. Update from The World Juniors

For those that don’t follow the World Junior Championship, the event kicked off last week in the Czech Republic. It’s been an exciting tournament so far with a few major highlights.

Höglander Pulls a Svechnikov

Twice this year, Hurricanes’ forward Andrei Svechnikov pulled off the famous lacrosse-style goal that so many have failed to replicate — first against Calgary in October, then again against Winnipeg in December. It was made famous  by a player that attended a university in Ann Arbor, MI that I refuse to mention. (Editor’s Note: Wolverines!) A Swedish prospect for the Canucks, Nils Höglander, must have been watching because he wasted no time netting one of his own against bitter rivals Finland. Oh, how I love the big ice. The lacrosse-style goal never gets old.

Lafreniere Goes Down

If you recognize any player from a WJ roster, odds are it’s Alexis Lafreniere, who is the odds-on favorite to be drafted first-overall (hopefully by the Detroit Red Wings) in the 2020 NHL draft. All eyes were on him as Canada took on Russia last Saturday. Not only did Canada get thumped by the Russians 6-0, but Lafreniere also suffered a leg injury during the game.

At first, many feared the injury was serious and could affect Lafreniere’s draft stock. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to be as bad as people initially thought. Lafreniere was ruled out of Monday’s game against Germany and could return later in the tournament.

As a fan, I would love to see Lafreniere return to the lineup. I love any opportunity to see prospects play, especially on the international stage. But, if I were Lafreniere’s agent, I would lock him in his hotel room and shut him down for the rest of the tournament. As much as I love the World Juniors, there’s no point in Lafreniere putting his health at risk for a junior tournament.

5. I Hate All-Star Voting

The NHL All-Star Game rosters were released yesterday and I have serious issues with the voting. I’m not going to list every player named to the team, you can find that here. What I am going to rant about is how the league ruined All-Star voting when they split the league into four divisions.

Back when All-Star teams were voted by conference, there was more space for multiple players from each team to make the squad. Now that the All-Star teams are voted by division, each spot carries more weight, especially considering each team is required to have one player selected to the roster.

For example, this year, Tyler Bertuzzi of the Red Wings was selected to the All-Star Game. I love Bertuzzi and I’m happy he will be representing the Red Wings. But, because there are only ten roster spots per division, there is almost no breathing room when selecting players from bad teams. Bertuzzi essentially had to make the squad. That leaves five additional forward spots, three of which went to Anthony Duclair, Jack Eichel, and Jonathan Huberdeau, who, like Bertuzzi, are their teams lone representative and essentially had to make the team. Auston Matthews and David Pastrnak grabbed the last two spots.

Seeing as the rosters are so small, the only two teams with multiple representatives from the Atlantic are Boston, with Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask, and the Maple Leafs with Matthews and Frederick Andersen making the squad. That left zero space for Brad Marchand to make the team.

Marchand is having a monster season and has been instrumental in Boston’s domination. He should have been the second or third name penciled in at the forward position for the Atlantic Divison. If the rosters were separated by conference, maybe Marchand gets that spot over a player like Braden Holtby.

It’s almost impossible for teams with more than two players truly deserving of going to the All-Star Game to send all three. As much as I like each team being represented, the NHL needs to expand the rosters or do something so some of the league’s brightest stars aren’t watching on their vacation. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.


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