The NHL All-Star Game went down last night in Dallas. The game wasn't very exciting, but the overall experience of watching it in HD was certainly worthwhile. First of all, to see these players in all their glory (without their helmets on) is a spectacle in itself. Also, the absurd line combinations, the new rail-cam (which glides across the top of the glass and gives an ice-level closeup view of the action and a great sense of how fast everything is during the game), and the in-game interviews made for a fun presentation of skill and personalities. Marty Turco was mic'd up during the entire 3rd period, and was cracking jokes WHILE playing the puck, not just after whistles. It was absolutely hilarious.
While we still have a couple of days before regular-season games resume, it is time to take a look at some amazing men, amazing men who are clowning it up, clowns who are pretending to be amazing, and clowns who are clowning. Any bias I may have towards certain players is entirely reflective either of their presence or absence on my fantasy team's roster in the "Borat Bonanza On Ice" yahoo league, or of a man crush I just can't seem to hide. (Note: when discussing the value of fantasy hockey players, penalty minutes will be IGNORED- it might be a default stat for Yahoo, but it is horsecrap. Ian Laperriere, as much as I love his smashed nose, should not be valuable in any league.) I will begin with the good. These are not the best overall players; this is a list of a few guys who are awesome and should be respected for what they are doing this season. Obviously, I am leaving many stars off the list. Here goes:
[G = goals, A = assists, P = total points, PPP = power-play points, SHP = shorthanded points, GWG = game-winning goals]
Sidney Crosby: 24 G 48 A, 72 points, +13, 31 PPP, 0 SHP, 4 GWG. This is a no-brainer, as obvious as it gets, but I feel obligated to mention him. He isn't just very good, he isn't just one of the best players in hockey, he is THE best player in the game today. The statistics do not tell the whole story (he leads the NHL in scoring)...you really must watch him play. He makes plays that nobody else is capable of making. He consistently executes behind-the-back, no look passes, perfectly on the tape! He's not bad at scoring goals either. If there is a "next Gretzky", he is the one. People of the US and A: I know you like NFL and Nascar and President Bush (even if you now deny it), but please pay attention to one of the few young superstars that make sports something worth living and dying for. P.S. He's 19.
Martin St. Louis: 30 G 36 A, 66 P, +3, 21 PPP, 6 SHP, 5 GWG. He's back, and better than ever! Many people forget, but in 03-04, the final season before the lockout, St. Louis won the Hart Trophy (MVP) when he scored 94 points, including 11 SHP, and was +35. He seemed like a perfect candidate to thrive in the new NHL 2 years later, with his speed and skill, but he blew it and only scored 66 points. Call it a transition season for him, because he is dominating right now with a linemate by the name of Vincent Lecavalier, who has 65 points so far this season (good for 3rd in NHL scoring) and almost the exact same stats as St. Louis across the board. Welcome back, little man, and thank you Vinny (#1 overall draft pick) for finally breaking out.
Alexander Frolov: 23 G 24 A, 47 P, -9, 20 PPP, 3 SHP, 4 GWG. Frolov may not be in the top 25 in scoring, but he is in the top 30! That is a remarkable achievement considering that he plays for the worst team in the Western Conference, a team whose name need not be mentioned. This is a breakout season for Frolov, and it can not even be attributed to the presence of rookie phenom Anze Kopitar in the lineup -they are rarely on the ice at the same time! (Marc Crawford, what on earth are you thinking?!) Just imagine what Fro would be capable of if he had some decent linemates...
Mark Bell: 6 G 3 A, 9 P, -9, 3 PPP, 0 SHP, 1 GWG. This is the biggest example of a blown opportunity in the NHL this season. Bell showed great potential on a horrible Chicago Blackhawks team last season (25 goals) and received the greatest gift a player like him could get at the start of this one: a spot on a line with Thornton and Cheechoo. Many a clown have found ways to thrive with a guy like Big Joe (see: Nils Ekman last season, Anson Carter with the Sedin twins, anyone who plays with Ovechkin, etc.). Not Mark Bell. He was off that top line in a flash, and hasn't even been motivated enough by his demotion to the 3rd and 4th lines to recapture his potential and earn a second chance. Pathetic.
Milan Hejduk: 15 G 15 A, 30 P, +2, 8 PPP, 0 SHP, 1 GWG. What has happened to this man? Maybe I'm wrong about his abilities, but I watched several games during the 2002-2003 season, during which he scored 50 goals and 98 points, and I can say with confidence he wasn't just a lucky beneficiary of Forsberg's gifted passing skills. In fact, I considered Hejduk to be the best pure goal scorer in hockey. He had a way of finding the back of the net, not just finishing plays, but shooting through traffic or from insane angles. He had the touch. The new NHL rules should have meant great things for Hejduk, but he has disappeared. He is not even mentioned among the leading goal scorers anymore, and Forsberg's absence is NO excuse...he still has Sakic! I am baffled by this Shawn Green-esque decline.
Markus Naslund: 15 G 21 A, 36 P, +3, 15 PPP, 0 SHP, 2 GWG. I know, there's no way Naslund is a clown. Hejduk isn't really either. The reason I chose these guys is because they used to be ELITE players, and now they are closer to mediocrity than elite. Naslund was among my favorite players in the NHL. Last season, in what I considered to be a let down year given the new rules, he still managed about a point per game (79 points, including 42 PPP, despite the minus 19 rating). This year, without Bertuzzi, he is on pace for 70 points. He should be scoring near 100 every season, or more! I really don't understand. Bertuzzi was no passing wizard, and the Sedin twins are both excellent playmakers. Come back to me, Markus!
That's all for now. I will return with a list of players who should improve in the 2nd half of the season, as well as a few players whose production will likely drop off. Until next time...