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Skills Competition Recap: I regret signing up for this

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This was an event that had hockey, at times.

NHL: All Star Game-Skills Competition Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL has its brightest stars (and Mike Green, for some reason) out tonight for the annual skills competition. Do you want to see which player can pass the puck into a tiny net? No? Well too bad, because I’m recapping this evening’s events anyway!

All snark aside, I’m sure this is an awesome experience for the players and those fortunate enough to attend in Tampa. I am not one of those fortunate people, so I will be hate-watching this on a surprisingly mild Saturday night in Toronto.

Also, let’s check out the broadcast team. It’s a Sportsnet event, so I’m sure it’s the usual susp—

Oh no. Goddammit, why the fuck is Healy back. Literally no one missed him. Is he gonna point out that the targets during the shooting accuracy challenge have a weak glove hand?

Alright, well, we’re getting started. The broadcast begins with this bizarre remix quasi hip-hop intro that sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of NBA Live 2004... so we’re off to a flying start. Ron MacLean is dressed in pirate garb for some unknown reason, and is interviewing some.... cosplayers? He makes a deranged metaphor about NHL All-Stars having treasure in their bellies... I need like 12 more beers, stat.

We finally get to the intros, after a brief song by Flo Rida. He’s not my favourite artist, but on the other hand he doesn’t use the Confederate flag as clothing, so I can’t really complain. The weird thing is that Flo Rida is inarguably more current and relevant than Kid Rock... why is he not the headliner for the weekend?

These introductions also make me realize that I would not be able to pick out like, at least 30% of these players from a police lineup. With that said... onto the events. If you’re interested in a summary of the events and how they work, check it out here.

Fastest Skater

Yeah, McDavid’s gonna win this easily, right?

Brayden Point kicks it off with a 13.579 second lap. Werenski follows up with a much slower 14.25 second lap. The highlight of this lap is Jim Hughson confusing left from right.

No one else breaks the 14 second mark... not even Nathan MacKinnon. Until Jack Eichel. He gets around 13.8 seconds, despite a small stumble. Point still leads, McDavid steps up with a 13.4 that he somehow made look effortless. He wins again, as expected.

He gets interviewed afterwards, and has the typical Connor McDavid interview where he pretends as if it was ever in doubt and that anyone could do what he did.

Passing Challenge

So this is the weird passing circuit. Players have to hit these flashing lights in one offensive zone, pass the puck to themselves off bumpers in the neutral zone, and saucer pass the puck into mini-nets in the other offensive zone.

This challenge seems really difficult. It makes Nikita Kucherov look like a bad passer. That said, the ‘give and go’ component of this seems like it was hastily thought up in order to give the players something to do between the offensive zones.

PK is on the mic now, which immediately increases the entertainment value of the broadcast. Seriously, he’s so much better than the suits for this type of event. Why bother taking it seriously. Just get some fun personalities in there who we are interested in seeing.

By the way, OEL takes the lead in this event. Seriously, Lou... trade for him.

PK is legit carrying the broadcast right now. He doesn’t even need prompting... he’s making articulate points about the players, the state of the league, whatever is happening. No notes, no prep beforehand. He’s amazing at this. If he goes into broadcasting, he will immediately become the Tony Romo of the NHL.

Alex Pietrangelo now takes the lead in this event, if you care... which you probably don’t. Eric Staal had a good showing in this too. Drew Doughty has a hilariously bad attempt, as he comes last. PK assures the crowd that he’ll give Doughty shit for that.

Pietrangelo ends up winning, and I have to say, that was an enjoyable event. Largely because of PK, but still.

Save Streak

So, this seems to be a new event? I have no recollection of it anyways. Shooters take turns on breakaways against goalies, and the goalie with the longest consecutive save streak wins, it seems. All the shooters from one division go up against a goalie, with the streak not being able to end on a save — in that case, the shooting order wraps around until someone scores.

Lundqvist starts 4-for-4, which is cool, but it does seem like guys are shooting into his chest. PK livens it up by throwing his glove at Lundqvist, but otherwise, this is pretty staid. As the shootout wraps around, the shooters definitely are more adventurous on the second go-around.

Carey Price is on the mic now, and he is the opposite of Subban. Negative amounts of chemistry, requires prompting to say absolutely anything, and when he does, it’s one sentence and done. Get some more entertaining players on the mic. At one point, Price says “I practice in practice”. That you do, Carey.

I’ve given up on recapping this event. It’s really boring. Matthews doesn’t even score on his shot. They’re still talking about pirates for some reason? It’s hard not to compare this to NBA All-Star Saturday Night, and it’s not a favourable comparison for the NHL. The NBA has it easier, for sure. Dunking and shooting threes are way more telegenic than any hockey skill. But even during the filler events, it’s more fun. The broadcast crews get likeable commentators and players, and largely set them loose. The focus is on what the players are doing, their reactions to it, and pointing out their individuality. Again, that’s easier in basketball than hockey. But the NHL should be able to do better than this. There’s way too much talk about how these guys put friendships aside to compete with one another which is both incredibly uninteresting and incredibly self-evident. It’d be better if they talk about the players more, in my opinion. And it’d also help if there were more outgoing players too.

Their answer to the dunk contest was the breakaway challenge, which had its own issues. You probably can’t replicate the success of that event, but replacing the boring Sportsnet hosts with some announcers who have a personality would go a long way.

Fleury won the challenge.

Puck Control Relay

This is the event Matthews is in. We’ve seen various versions of this - stickhandling through pucks, obstacle course, and putting pucks into various elevated holes.

Erik Karlsson is the first to find a loophole and just put the puck on his stick with his hand to handle the elevated holds. But so far, Johnny Gaudreau has a comfortable lead on the field. Not even McDavid can get within spitting distance of him.

Matthews is up now — he looks like he’s going half speed, and is REALLY struggling. Gaudreau made it look easy... everyone else has made it look anything but. He wins it going away.

Hardest Shot

Klingberg goes first and records a 96.6 shot. Ovechkin follows up with 98.8. Subban trails the field with a 95.5, at least until Burns records a mediocre (by the standards of this competition) 88. Stamkos gets a 95.3.

Second round now, slowest to fastest:

Burns improves his score slightly, but not enough, as does Stamkos. Subban gets close to Ovi’s mark with a 98.7, and Ovi gets a nice bookend to the competition with a 101 MPH shot to put the icing on the cake.

Shot Accuracy

Alright, the final event of the evening. This is a timed event, not a number of shots event now:

  • Brian Boyle starts strong, with a time just over 11.6 seconds - that’s a great time, and I’d love to see him win it.
  • Wheeler gets it done in 22.5 seconds.
  • James Neal hits all five in just over 14 seconds. He started strong, but hit a snag when trying to reach for some pucks.
  • Brock Boeser up next. He has a great shot, and it shows... he beats Boyle’s time, getting it done in 11.13 seconds.
  • Boeser’s shot also broke one of the electronic plates that they’re using in lieu of the styrofoam plates of years past.
  • Brad Marchand is up next, and struggles, and the crowd is absolutely LOVING it. The highlight of the evening so far. He gets it done in 44 seconds.
  • Anze Kopitar attempts to make Marchand feel better - he does even worse. He finally finishes the course a little under 51 seconds.
  • Sidney Crosby gets a 15.8.
  • Steven Stamkos is up, and gets a 21.91. Boeser wins.

Well, that was certainly a hockey-related event. See you next year in San Jose for more of the same.